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July 6, 2011

"Mexican National Set for Execution in Texas Despite Obama's Pleas for Delay"

The title of this post is the headline of this ABC News report on the latest news from Texas surrounding a scheduled execution with state, federal and international elements.  Here is how the piece starts:

Lawyers for the Obama administration are taking the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to delay the execution scheduled for Thursday of a Mexican national who is on death row in Texas.  

Humberto Leal, who has lived in the United States since he was 2 years old, is set to be executed for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, a 16-year-old girl.

But Leal's case has been complicated by the fact that he and other Mexican nationals on death row across the country were never informed of their right to seek legal assistance from the Mexican consulate.  Such a failure of notification is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations -- a treaty that the United States is a party to -- which says that foreigners in custody have the right to consular notification, communication and access.

"The violation of the Vienna Convention in Mr. Leal's case was no mere technicality," said Sandra Babcock, who serves as Leal's lead counsel.  "The Mexican consulate would have provided experienced and highly qualified attorneys who would have challenged the prosecution's reliance on junk science to obtain a conviction and would have presented powerful mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, including expert testimony regarding Mr. Leal's learning disabilities, brain damage, and sexual abuse at the hands of his parish priest."

The case is generating interest at the highest levels of the U.S. government from officials who do not want to send a message abroad that foreigners in custody have no right to consular notification.  But it also has stirred a debate about the role of international courts and state death penalty convictions.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations, determined that Leal and some 50 other Mexican Nationals on death row in the United States were entitled to judicial hearings to determine whether there had been a breach of their rights.

After the ruling, then President George W. Bush directed state courts to review the cases. But Texas pushed back, arguing that state courts were not subject to the rulings of an International Court.  In 2008, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which said that Congress would have to pass legislation in order for the ICJ decision to be enforced.

But it was only last month that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which was meant to facilitate U.S. compliance with consular notification and provide judicial review for these particular foreign nationals who were denied access to their consulate.

As things stand now, the law has no chance of passing before the planned execution of Leal.Only the Supreme Court or Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have the power to delay the execution and Perry has indicated that he is not sympathetic to the international court's finding.  "If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws" Perry's spokesman Katherine Cesinger. Cesinger added that the governor has yet to make a final decision on the case.

Solicitor General Donald V. Verrilli jury asked the Supreme Court on Friday to delay Leal's execution until the end of the next congressional session, Jan. 3, 2012, in order to give time for congress to pass the law.

Verrilli writes that without a stay of execution, the relationship between the United States and Mexico will be strained. "Those relations are enjoying an unprecedented level of cooperation but they are also unusually sensitive, so that a breach resulting from petitioner's execution would be particularly harmful," Verrilli writes.

July 6, 2011 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I believe U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said it best just last week:

Leal's claims are "utterly lacking in arguable merit." and the fact that Senator Leahy has INTRODUCED legislation is "little more than highly speculative predictions from a variety of political science professors and a handful of hopeful executive branch and congressional officers."

Enough said. All the SCOTUS should do is deny and refer to Judge Garcia's well thought out ruling.

Posted by: DeanO | Jul 6, 2011 12:41:50 PM

We heard all this with Medellin in 2008. Exact same script. If Patrick Leahy was so concerned about this, why didn't he or other senators introduce legislation 3 years ago after the Medellin execution?

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 6, 2011 3:48:56 PM

It amazes me how many people misinterpret this case. Lawless Texas, violating US and international law so it can kill a possibly innocent Mexican immigrant. In short: SCOTUS backs Texas in this issue, the ICJ has no jurisdiction, the physical evidence is damning, Leal has been in this country since he was two and his victim was Hispanic. The treaty is too poorly constructed in regards to US law to matter.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 6, 2011 4:00:35 PM

DaveP:
You asked a very good question; and I do not know the answer to that. However, Congresspersons do introduce numerous bills which actually die at committee/subcommitte levels. To know the real answer, we may have to dig up the Congressional Records and see if such a bill, or its variant, was ever introduced and if yes, what happenend to it.

I really think that Texas should stay the execution and let the US Supreme Court rule on the matter. (Disclosure: I am totally against death penalty for any reason. Yes, I am a Native Texan.) We have about 4,000 US Citizens held prisoners all over the world. Many of these countries - as the US is - are signatories to the Vienna Convention Treaty. We have to carefully consider the potential fallout from what is seeemingly a cut-and-dried, clear-cut, slam-dunk case. The political ramifications - to say nothing of the human component - of this issue is huge. Many of the not-so-democratic countries could and will use this issue to summarily execute American citizens. Just ask a few people who have been arrested for trivial offenses, especially in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Middle East. (The only issue with this Treaty was that it was not "self-executing"; otherwise, it would have been binding on all states regardless of what the respective states' convictions may be.)

Posted by: John Marshall | Jul 6, 2011 8:09:07 PM

John Marshall

you think SCOTUS should stay the execution and rule on the matter? Are you suggesting they revisit Medellin and reverse? Of course, in capital cases anything is possible.

Leal is obviously guilty. He is not claiming actual innocence. His attorneys suggest that had he been advised to contact the Mexican consulate, he would have received better legal representation and possibly avoided the death sentence. Speculation. Of course,there are learning disabilities, brain damage and sexual abuse that we hear about from almost every death sentenced prisoner.

Does anyone know if legislation was introduced since Medellin's execution and the outcome? It obviously did not get support or we probably wouldn't be discussing this 3 years later.

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 6, 2011 8:47:59 PM

DaveP:

The short answer to your question is: "Yes." Also, in Medellin vs. Texas, the US Supreme Court stated that the Vienna Convention Treaty was "not self-executing." Since Congress had (and still has) not enacted "legislation" to render it binding on the several states, Medellin was not entitled to that right for arrests made by the states. (At least this is my understanding.) By contrast, many of the treaties are indeed self-executing, thereby needing no action by Congress's to make it binding and effective.

Garcia may actually be guilty. I have not followed the case and so I cannot really say. This "right" is not about whether or not one is guilty.

My knee-jerk reaction is that somebody in Congress must have tried to introduce a legislation, which probably went nowhere due to other "more pressing" issues.

Posted by: John Marshall | Jul 6, 2011 10:45:50 PM

think you need to back up and smell the coffee mike!

"It amazes me how many people misinterpret this case. Lawless Texas, violating US and international law so it can kill a possibly innocent Mexican immigrant. In short: SCOTUS backs Texas in this issue, the ICJ has no jurisdiction, the physical evidence is damning, Leal has been in this country since he was two and his victim was Hispanic. The treaty is too poorly constructed in regards to US law to matter.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 6, 2011 4:00:35 PM"

first doesn't matter how well or not well the TREATY was constructed. WE SIGNED IT! the states are REQUIRED to obey!

second as to how long he's been in the country SO WHAT! you can't have it both ways! if we can take individuals who like this person who has lived their whole live in this country but at adulthood discover they are illegal and ship them BACK WHERE THEY CAME FROM! then obviously under our law they are still CITIZENS of that country! I.E. the treaty APPLIES!

what the feds need to do is show some balls and order a SEAL TEAM attack aginst the prison he's in and get him and remove him to federal custody!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 6, 2011 10:47:37 PM

"first doesn't matter how well or not well the TREATY was constructed. WE SIGNED IT! the states are REQUIRED to obey!"
Not according to SCOTUS. Look up the Medellin case. It requires an act of Congress to make the treaty enforceable in regards to state prisoners.

As for your SEAL team idea, that would land federal officials in prison.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 6, 2011 11:54:45 PM

lol

"As for your SEAL team idea, that would land federal officials in prison."

Where HAVE YOU BEEN the last 10-20 years! The febs can do whatever they want to WHOME ever they want! LEGAL or otherwise.....with no punishment!

why would this when they have a REAL LEGAL TREATY to back them do you think it could possible be different!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 7, 2011 3:27:36 PM

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