Tue. Apr 23rd, 2019

The lawyer who acts as a bridge between the judicial system and innocent Latinos

The lawyer who acts as a bridge between the judicial system and innocent Latinos

The lawyer Cristina Bordé, daughter of Colombian immigrants, has dedicated her professional life in the United States to almost impossible causes, such as appealing sentences to capital punishment of prisoners who do not have the resources to defend themselves or to remove innocent Latinos from prison.

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Born in New York and raised in Colombia between 5 and 18 years of age, where she obtained "a deep knowledge of Latin culture and Spanish," Bordé told Efe that she considers herself privileged because of the opportunities that life has given her, among them graduated in law at Harvard University in 1995.

"With the unconditional support of my family, I could dedicate myself fully to serve as a bridge between the judicial system and people who are often unjustly condemned, without the necessary resources to prove their innocence," says the jurist.

In his career, his command of the language has been essential to deal with cases of Latinos accused of serious crimes who can not be understood by the police, much less when they arrive at the court and remain in the hands of interpreters who do not always translate everything there it is declared.

Her first job, barely graduated from university, was for three and a half years as a lawyer in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which operates in San Francisco, California.

He then represented death sentence free for 14 years in state and federal cases, at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, also in San Francisco.

Her most notorious case, and the one that prompted her to dedicate herself to Hispanics in need of a defense, was that of Mexican Vicente Benavides, who spent 25 years on the death row of San Quentin State Prison (California), condemned by the rape and death of a girl.

It took 19 years of work by Bordé and the other lawyers of the center to demonstrate that the medical evidence presented at the trial was based on misdiagnoses, and thus prove the innocence of Benavides, who was released in April 2018.

Bordé also highlights the case of Mario Vásquez, a Mexican immigrant who was 16 years and six months in prison for allegedly raping a four-year-old girl.

The evidence obtained by the Habeas Corpus Resource Center showed that he had been unjustly convicted, and was released in 2015.

For the lawyer, these were not isolated cases, but proved that the lack of English proficiency and cultural barriers can greatly influence the jury and the judge.

"The accused Hispanic can not only go to jail, but it can also be very difficult to prove his innocence in a trial," he said.

After her experience in California, Bordé joined the Innocence Project of the law school of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the capital, in 2012, where she later became a professor.

His job there was to train and supervise law students in real cases of "the difficulties of Hispanic inmates to be exonerated in cases of which they might be innocent, especially because of language problems," he said.

According to figures from the National Registry of Exonerations of the United States, which the lawyer studied at the time, out of a total of 2,363 prisoners exonerated since 1989 of crimes they did not commit, only 280 were Latinos.

Bordé decided to create the Wisconsin Latino Exonerated Program three years ago, with a grant from the federal government that required him to study only cases where a DNA test could change a fault.

The program has run out of funds at a time when it has more than 100 applicants, on a waiting list that can take seven years.

Without resources to pay her salary, that of another lawyer and an assistant, Bordé decided to return to her origins in California and now works in the city of Oakland, in the Public Defender's Office in charge of appealing death sentences.

"I love what I do, and despite the difficulties, I have the dream of moving forward and creating a permanent project to help innocent Hispanic prisoners from across the United States," Bordé said.


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