By David Simmonds
When I was younger and dumber, in my late teens and early 20′s, Mexican laws, in my mind, were non-existent as long as you had a $20 bill in your pocket. This bribe money is commonly called mordida, or “the bite”. Whether it was failing to stop at an invisible stop sign, public intoxication, or most anything short of murder, a $20 spot would take care of the problem. Working for years on that rule it’s a minor miracle that I’m alive and walking freely today. Fortunately, I wised up as I aged, as most of us do.
In fact, Mexico is a country steeped in law and tradition. The current laws are derived from the Constitution of 1917, after the revolution. What surprises many gringos is that the laws are different than in the United States. Mexico operates under the Napoleonic Code instead of English common law as is practiced in the states. Mexico law is codified as referenced in law books, with unique circumstances having no effect on innocence or guilt. When in court, the judge looks up the law and applies it. For the most part there is no jury of your peers. Sentences tend to be longer with fewer back-room deals being negotiated. The harsh penalties tend to have a direct effect on illegal acts by many Mexicans. They know they’re going to jail if caught, so they for the most part abide by the law. And you should, too.
Another major difference in Mexico and U.S law is that in Mexico you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Yes, read that again, slowly. You have to prove your innocence. Do you like your chances? I didn’t think so.
The issue is further complicated by all of the state and local laws. There is no way you will be aware of all of these, so use common sense. If in doubt, don’t do it.
I know Americans who have spent time in Mexican jails, and believe me, you don’t want to be one of them. (Full disclosure: I did a few hours in an Ensenada jail. The police were indiscriminately arresting young gringos because some drunk doorknob had cracked a beer bottle over a cop’s head). Now, the mordida is essentially illegal. It is also fairly common. You need to make that decision if you want to participate, and the price has increased since the $20 days. Better yet, don’t get in a situation where you have to make that call. The reality is that it may well work and you can be on your way. Or, the cop might be insulted, and your problem just became worse.
Respect the laws of Mexico, and learn about them before you travel. Remember that you are in their country and you need to show proper respect to the institutions that prevail. Here is a good web site to help you learn and understand. http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/root/pdfs/telegalcriminalguide.pdf
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.