Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit reveals the strong prejudices against Mexican Americans that permeated the Los Angeles legal system in the 1940s. Even before the action that is covered in the course of the play, the police had poor relationships with the Mexican American men who wore the zoot suit style, assuming that they were gang members or pachucos and involved in illegal activities. When the fights broke out among the men at the Sleepy Lagoon, the police quickly made accusations of murder and arrested the most convenient subjects. Henry Reyna and the others were made scapegoats instead of the police making a serious effort to uncover the truth.
One element of the violation of civil rights and miscarriage of justice was the presumption of guilt by the police, whereas the law prescribes a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Based off of the idea that Henry Reyna and the other men were guilty, the police interrogated them. When the case went to trial, justice was not served in the courtroom. Rather, the press had become involved in swaying the “court of public opinion,” and the defendants’ conviction was a foregone conclusion. The judge is shown as consistently favoring the prosecutor and refusing to sustained the defense’s objections.