MEXICO CITY- Mexico's Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a state law allowing virtually lifetime imprisonment for some murders, a ruling that a justice said might ease limits on extradition that have infuriated U.S. lawmen.
A majority of the court voted to uphold a Chihuahua state law that allows consecutive prison terms for murders involving children, women or kidnap victims, even if the total surpasses 100 years.
In previous years, the court has rejected extraditions to the United States if defendants could face life terms, ruling they amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Laws in most Mexican states limit total prison terms to 40 or 50 years.
Justice Juan Diaz Rombero told reporters that the newly upheld Chihuahua law could lead to sentences of 105 years in the case of a murder of a kidnapped woman or child.
He noted that previous court decisions had held that life terms were unconstitutional. But he said that the court on Tuesday that those arguments "are not applicable in this case."
The court's refusal in earlier cases to extradite suspects facing the death penalty or life in prison had outraged many U.S. lawmen because it has blocked extradition of suspects who fled to Mexico after they were accused of especially brutal murders.
Diaz noted, however, that the Chihuahua law still does not explicitly call for a life sentence; it allows for consecutive terms that would amount to a life sentence in practice.
Diaz said his personal opinion was that court precedent still blocks extraditions where a life imprisonment was possible. But he said "there is a possibility" that situation could change.
"The fact of the vote at this moment gives us to understand that the criteria of the full court could have to change" if faced with another defendant's motion to block extradition, he said.
While the current decision applies only to the northern border state of Chihuahua, Diaz said "it is a criteria that eventually could be applied and extended to any other case."
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