Geoffrey Smith's and Roberto Hernandez's Presumed Guilty follows two Berkeley attorneys who take up the appeals case for José Antonio Zúñiga Rodriguez (nicknamed Tono), a young man who worked in a marketplace selling electronics before being convicted of murder based on faulty police work, contradicting testimony and zero physical evidence. The attorneys (director Hernández and his colleague Layda Negrete) obsessively videotaped all hearings and procedures in an attempt to showcase some of the problems with Mexico's judicial system.
By the time his appeal is heard, Tono has already spent over a year in an over-crowded, violent prison. In an effort to demonstrate that he is maintaining high spirits through a difficult time, Smith and Hernandez show him working on his (increasingly awesome) breakdancing skill. In this way, we understand that this time is far easier on him than it is for his family, who sneak him food rations and worry constantly about his fate as he faces the enormous odds of a legal system designed to prioritize conviction rates rather than increasing actual safety of its citizenry.
Smith and Hernandez delight in showing the intricacy of Mexico's labyrinth of legal corruption. The judge assigned to Tono's appeal is the same one who originally heard the case (a trial that Tono was not allowed to attend). He refuses to allow any previous testimony to be re-examined, the arresting officer refuses to answer any questions, the key witness appears to be coached and we learn that Tono's original attorney is practicing law without a law degree. While the filmmakers try to make these scenes more edgy or incendiary with graphics and sound effects, it's clear that the bulk of Tono's problems stem from the entitlement of lazy civil servants and not a master conspiracy or a system where corrupt fortunes are being spent. This has the result of making the attorneys' passion seem somewhat leaden.