Films & Schedules
  • Presumed Guilty
    Presunto culpable

  • Roberto Hernández

  • Geoffrey Smith

Country: Mexico
91 minutes

Friday September 1103:30PM JACKMAN HALL - AGO Buy Now
Sunday September 1307:00PM AMC 10 Buy Now
Saturday September 1904:00PM JACKMAN HALL - AGO Buy Now
Description Credits


In the Mexican penal system, one is guilty until proven innocent. This leads to a very uncomfortable reality: prisons full of people serving time for crimes they didn't commit. Presumed Guilty narrates the story of José Antonio Zúñiga Rodriguez, nicknamed Toño, who was mistakenly accused of murder and condemned to twenty years in jail for being poor and in the wrong place at the wrong time. His case would have been one of many unfortunate stories, but lawyers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete decided to get involved and publicize the injustice.

Hernández and Negrete gained recognition for a short documentary called The Tunnel, which provoked the release of an innocent man from prison. This film eventually led them to Toño's case, and after studying the court documents, they discovered that the lawyer representing him was working illegally with a forged licence. They were able to reopen the case and decided to film the new trial. Hernández and Geoffrey Smith (of The English Surgeon) then teamed up to bring Toño's story to the screen.

Presumed Guilty shows how Toño's strength and creativity help him through nearly three years of wrongful imprisonment. Courtroom scenes chillingly call to mind Kafka's The Trial, so absurd is the mindless bureaucracy in the judicial process. Toño is retried by the same judge who condemned him. The prosecutor is concerned only with the previous case file and has no interest in new information. The police officers refuse to co-operate, insisting they do not remember Toño's arrest. It is revealed that the only witness to implicate Toño had himself originally been accused of the crime, then learned of Toño through the police. Hernández and Negrete uncover a frustrating, labyrinthine legal system defended by mediocre civil servants and corrupt police officers.

Turning the lens on a dysfunctional legal system, Hernández and Smith show just how difficult it is to achieve any sort of justice. At a time when there is a strong push for the death penalty in Mexico, Presumed Guilty is important not only as a document of the system's flaws but as a vehicle for change.

Diana Sanchez

Roberto Hernández was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and is completing a doctorate in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Presumed Guilty (09) is his first feature-length documentary.

Geoffrey Smith was born in Melbourne, Australia, and has made over twenty television documentaries. His film The English Surgeon (07) was named the best international feature documentary at the 2008 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Presumed Guilty (09) is his latest film.

Cadillac People's Choice Award