An Arizona mother of seven being held on drug charges in Mexico is pleading for authorities to set her free.
“This is like a dream, a bad dream that I’m living,” Yanira Maldonado told NBC News from the Mexican jail where she is currently being detained. “I just hope that this gets resolved for the good so I can go home. And I’m worried for my kids, they need me there.”
Maldonado, 42, was arrested by the Mexican military last week and charged with drug-smuggling after officials said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat. Maldonado and her husband were returning to the United States after attending her aunt’s funeral in Mexico when the bus they were riding in was stopped at a military checkpoint.
“My spirit is good, it’s better right now,” said Maldonado. “But I get concerned too because I just want to get home. I want to be free. I just want to be back home with my family, and my children, and my loving husband.”
A devout Mormon from Goodyear, Ariz., Maldonado was born in Mexico but is a naturalized American citizen. She believes she may have been set up at the military checkpoint, where soldiers initially accused her husband, Gary Maldonado, of smuggling the marijuana before detaining her instead. Maldonado’s family in Arizona also believes she was framed.
“There are basically two types of law [in Mexico]: the law on the books and the way the law is actually applied,” said NBC Latino’s Raul Reyes, an attorney, on Jansing & Co. Thursday. “Their system is radically different from what we so often take for granted. In Mexico, there is no presumption of innocence. In Mexico, there are no jury trials. So for someone who’s a suspect, basically the only thing standing between you and a prison sentence is one judge.”
A lawyer representing Maldonado said the judge will decide by Friday whether to release her. Maldonado’s family members back home in Arizona are also pleading on her behalf for the Mexican authorities to release her.
At the same time, Maldonado’s husband is expressing frustration at the legal system in Mexico.
“It’s just so bizarre down here and so different,” said Gary Maldonado. “We’re not used to it, this process. We just want it to be over. We’re thankful for everybody’s support.”
Mexico’s judicial system varies drastically from the United States, where trials do not involve juries. It is also common for a judge to not allow defendants to bring in witnesses to defend themselves.
“The judge will just look at legal documents and rule on it,” Reyes told msnbc’s Chris Jansing. “Something that’s very sobering for people to think about, especially people who may be going to Mexico, is that a very respected think-tank in Mexico—The Center for Investigative Development—their research shows that 85% of the people in Mexico who are arrested, they are convicted. Basically once the police have a suspect, the criminal investigation is over.”