At least 100,000 deaths from that era remain unresolved, with most of the dead buried in unmarked mass graves. After Franco's death in 1975, amid Spain's subsequent democratic transition, the country sought to put its tumultuous past to rest with a 1977 law granting amnesty to those who committed crimes during the war and under the Franco regime.
But the past began to resurface this century as relatives began to dig up remains. In 2006, the Association for the Recovery for Historical Memory, which leads forensic research on mass graves, filed a suit forcing an investigation. It landed in Garzón's lap.
"After so many years trying to get the truth, even bad news is good news," says Emilio Silva, president of the organization, which has identified the remains of 5,400 people. "The silence is broken. This is positive for our struggle. It's the first time in history that a court has heard the testimonies of victims of these crimes, even if it was in a trial against Garzón."
Garzón was charged in three separate cases in May 2010 for intentionally abusing his power to subvert justice.
The first was for ignoring the amnesty law and reopening the investigation of Franco-era crimes; the second for dropping charges against a banker, allegedly in exchange for payments for a series of lectures; and the third was for wiretapping conversations between lawyers and their clients in prison while investigating a corruption ring involving high-ranking Popular Party officials. The Supreme Court ruled Garzón was guilty in the wiretapping case.
He is in the process of appealing the decision, but many say rehearing his case is highly unlikely in Spain.
The amnesty law case was the last to be decided. Garzón argued that because the crimes were against humanity, he was within the law to investigate them for the same reason that he had been allowed to investigate human rights violations worldwide.