Detention and Arrest

What happens if you're arrested in Mexico City. How it works, who can help, and what rights you have...<br>

Foreigners, either residents and tourists, are entitled to the same rights at Mexican citizens (with the exception of being prohibited from taking part in political activities or directly owning land in certain areas). Foreigners are not entitled to special treatment and must abide by local and national laws. 

The United Nations reported that 3,044 foreigners were being held in Mexican prisons, penal institutions or correctional facilities (published in 2013). This number does not include people being held for immigration issues. In the same year 899 foreigners were convicted of a crime in Mexico, not including minor traffic violations and petty offenses.

Being detained

Anyone detained on suspicion of a crime should wait for legal advice and should not sign any documents or statements. 

• See the Angloinfo Business Directory for Lawyers, Law Firms, Attorneys & Legal Advice in Mexico City

If the driver of a car suspects they have been unfairly pulled over by police, Auto Chilango (in Spanish) is a smartphone app that provides information for road users in Mexico City. The app includes information about Hoy No Circula restrictions and maps for services (eg. gas stations), as well as information about traffic laws, infractions and fines. The app can be used as a resource to check if a person is being rightfully detained for a traffic violation. It is illegal to offer a bribe to police.

Embassy support

Generally, embassies will provide detainees with assistance in the following areas:

• Advice on local laws and procedures
• Assistance contacting friends and family
• Help to find a lawyer and interpreter if needed
• Contact with charities that can advise on financial aid, if needed

The most important thing to note is that embassies cannot intervene in the judicial process in Mexico. Generally, embassies will respond to natural disasters, civil unrest, terrorism, conflict and large-scale accidents by:

• sending extra staff to country to support country nationals
• setting up information hotlines, SMS and online web form facility
• setting up information points at airport or place of safety
• assisting with evacuation depending on the severity of the crisis

Embassy advice on being arrested

• British Embassy
• US Embassy
• Canadian Embassy
• Australian Embassy
• New Zealand Embassy

Going to court

The Mexican legal system categorizes crimes as either ‘state’ or ‘federal’ offenses. Federal offenses are those associated with organized crime, drug trafficking and tax offenses among others. State offenses include murder, attempted murder and theft.

Police may bring the case to the Ministerio Publico which generally has 48 hours to determine if prosecution should go ahead. If a case is to be prosecuted it is brought before a judge who then has 72 hours to decide if the case should be tried. Bail is not common in Mexico and can only be granted in special cases. If sufficient evidence is found against a person Mexican law allows detention and arrest until a verdict is passed.

Until June 2016 trials were conducted privately through written testimonies to a judge who decided the entire case. There was no presumption that a defendant was innocent until proven guilty. Since June 2016 the system has changes and cases are now tried in open court. This means a trial now has a prosecutor, a defence attorney and a neutral judge. The old system and new will both be in place for a few years until pre-existing cases are cleared.

Going to prison

In the case of incarceration (imprisonment), it may be possible to be sent home to serve a sentence. Mexico has agreements with the US, Canada and the UK allowing the transfer of international prisoners.