A Look at Judicial Process of Crossing Ammunition into Mexico
WESLACO – The arrest of a Rio Grande Valley woman by Mexican authorities who found bullets in her vehicle at the international bridge is prompting questions about the judicial process involved.
The woman, Anamichelle Castellano, and a volunteer were crossing hundreds of toys for migrant children this week when they detained after Mexican customs found a box of bullets in their vehicle. They paid thousands of dollars for her release, but the official judicial process may not have required the payment.
A box of 9mm caliber-bullets led to the detention. The two women were taken to a federal building – part of Fiscalía General de la República, an office for Mexican federal attorneys – in Matamoros for nearly two days.
Castellano says, "There were some really nice, kind-hearted people who just came right out and said, 'you really don't deserve to be here. This is not a big deal. Obviously you were trying to do good. Then there was a smaller other group of people saying, 'this is a criminal offense, this is something serious. You're going to have to go to a judge.'"
Taking ammunition into Mexico is a federal crime, but the kind of ammunition determines the severity of the punishment and affects how the case is adjudicated.
A former Nuevo Leon delegate for the FGR, Victor Jaime Cabrera, explained Mexico's penal system was reformed in 2008 and the changes were fully implemented by 2016. The federal law allows a sentence of up to 10 years for the smuggling of military-grade ammunition. For a 9mm caliber bullets, the penalties are lighter. The law would allow for the person to be released from the FGR, the place where the two women were transferred.
According to Cabrera, the officials at the FGR have 48 hours to decide whether the person suspected of the offense will be released or detained and referred to a judge. Under the reform, something critical changed, explained Cabrera, "With the new penal system the bond has disappeared. So, the only thing that is determined is whether the person will be detained or released [until they go before a judge]."
In the Castellano incident, money was exchanged prior to any appearance before a judge. Jehu Castellano, Anamichelle's husband, says they hired attorneys to help them while they were at the Matamoros FGR office.
Jehu says of the first attorney, "He came and he assisted us, and said, 'there's going to be a fine. There's going to be some kind of fine.' So, he recommended I get $500 out of the ATM." A second attorney told the Castellanos they would need thousands of dollars more to gain freedom.
Cabrera says the only time money would be involved in this situation is if a judge later determines the offender needs to pay for damages. Certain possibilities exist in a case like this where money was paid and receipts were not granted at this phase.
Cabrera said, "That's where an attorney can commit a fraud and say that they need to pay a certain amount, but in reality the attorney is the one who is benefiting from the money."
The officials can get a cut, too; but, Cabrera cautions those facts cannot be established without an investigation of the case and a closer look at the documents generated by it.
Even when the FGR releases the person suspected of the offense, as Anamichelle and her volunteer were set free, the case can still be referred to a judge. They were told the case is still ongoing. The judge will determine whether charges will be pressed and a fine assessed for damages.
Jehu Castellano hopes, "I hope whoever the judge is ... understands what is the just thing to do.”
Cabrera says a judge in cases like this will take intent into account like the original reason the Castellanos were visiting Matamoros – delivering gifts to migrant children for Christmas.
Cabrera also advises U.S. citizens seek the help of reputable attorneys and their consulates as soon as they are detained.