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La Santa Muerte And The Law


In what is sure to be a landmark case in the use of La Santa Muerte in drug trafficking trails, a pair of accused meth dealers were let off because of La Santa Muerte. Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Vianey Medina-Copete were convicted of selling meth and received fifteen years in jail. The prosecution used the fact that they had a Santa Muerte prayer card in their truck at the time of their arrest as evidence of their guilt. In a court statement they declared that praying to the popular folk saint was “a very good indicator of possible criminal activity.” On appeal the court found that the use of La Santa Muerte as evidence was misguided and downright racist. So, they overturned the conviction.

It’s true that La Santa Muerte is popular with narcos in Mexico but devotion to La Santa Muerte isn’t in and of itself evidence of guilt. The truth is that La Santa Muerte is worshiped all over Mexico and the Mexican diaspora by everyday people who have nothing to do with selling drugs. The problem is that in many drug trails the defendant’s devotion to the saint has been used as proof of guilt. Andrew Chestnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, called it a “landmark case”. Chestnut went on to say that,

“Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases. But she is not just a narco saint, and many of her devotees aren’t involved in criminal behavior.”

Part of the problem is a fundamental lack of knowledge on the part of many Americans about Latino culture. Latino spirituality in particular is really mysterious. Faith in Latin America isn’t as cut and dry as it is here in the United States. People don’t stick to narrow guidelines when it comes to religion. The fact is that La Santa Muerte is a syncretic saint that mixes the ancient Aztec goddess of death with Catholic iconography. La Santa Muerte is a truly mestizo saint and is part of a mestizo spirituality. Until people understand that, these convictions are going to continue.

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