Dana Conour, a 33-year-old homemaker from Iowa, stood in a courtroom in Tijuana, Mexico, and faced the police officer accused of raping her. When their eyes met, the events of that awful night came rushing back. She recalled how he had assaulted her on his desk, how he offered her a cigarette afterward, how he laughed about it with a fellow officer. She remembered the long wait for her husband to return from a cash machine and pay a bribe for her release.
Conour had gone back to Tijuana, nearly two months after the attack, expecting to identify her assailant in a lineup and be done with it.
Instead, she found herself in a careo, or face-off, a central ritual of Mexican justice, reports the Los Angeles Times. Conour stood an arm’s length from the accused, Hector Arias, 35, a police supervisor, with only a metal screen between them. As a judge and several lawyers watched, Arias locked his gaze onto hers and proclaimed his innocence. The careo – from the Spanish word cara, meaning face – is a Mexican legal tradition that dates to the Spanish Inquisition. Accused and accuser confront each other and offer their versions of the truth, with limited participation from lawyers. Whether a careo is an effective tool for eliciting the truth is a matter of debate, but many legal scholars, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys say the practice has proved its worth.