DOJ files brief in Supreme Court to stay execution of Mexico national

DOJ files brief in Supreme Court to stay execution of Mexico national

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] Friday filed an amicus brief [text, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] in an attempt to stay the execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia [advocacy website]. Leal Garcia’s defense team filed a writ of certiorari [text] with the Supreme Court earlier this week. The Obama administration has serious concerns for how the execution could affect foreign policy since it would violate Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [text, PDF]. The DOJ argued Leal Garcia’s execution would cause irreparable harm to relations with Mexico and violate the US’s obligations under international law. The brief pointed particularly to the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) [official website] decision in Case Concerning Avena & Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), where the ICJ held the US violated Article 36 by failing to inform consular authorities of 49 Mexican nationals in detention. The brief argued:

Most immediately, petitioner’s execution would result in serious damage to United States relations with Mexico. The United States’ failure to comply with Avena has generated increasing concern by the Mexican government and thus posed an ever-greater obstacle to United States-Mexican relations. 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. As explained in a letter to the Secretary of State from the Mexican Ambassador, the United States’ continued non-compliance with the ICJ’s decision has already placed great strain on [the] relationship between the United States and Mexico.

Attached to the brief are letters of support for Leal Garcia from several nations, including Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Switzerland, Uruguay, as well as the European Union [official website]. Although Leal Garcia’s defense team filed for an overall review of his case in addition to the stay, the Obama administration seeks a delay of the execution until the Consular Notification Compliance Act [text, PDF] passes, thus giving Leal Garcia an avenue to appeal his conviction as a violation of his consular rights. Stays of execution can be handled singularly by the Circuit Justice for that area, in this case, Justice Antonin Scalia. Typically, though, the Justice will bring the stay to the other eight justices for deliberation. Scalia is not expected to respond until Texas’ government files an answer in the stay. Leal Garcia’s execution is scheduled for July 7, which Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] has stated will go on as planned [Guardian report].

When Leal Garcia was arrested for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, he was denied consular access, as required by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. As a result, he was assigned a public aid attorney who had been sanctioned numerous times for ethical violations, which he contends caused his conviction. Further, the strongest evidence against him were statement he made when not in police custody, and also without access to the consulate. There was then a hearing in the ICJ, which held [judgment, PDF] that Leal Garcia was entitled to a hearing on the consular rights violation in his case. A Texas trial court differed, holding that because Leal Garcia was not in custody no one was required to contact the consulate. Last week, officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] appealed [JURIST report] directly to Perry, alleging Leal Garcia did not receive a fair trial. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] wrote a personal letter to Perry asking for Leal Garcia’s sentence to be commuted. Former president George W. Bush denounced the sentence when he was in office, issuing an executive memoranda [text, PDF] that Texas had to comply with the ICJ’s ruling in approximately 50 Mexican nationals’ planned executions. The Supreme Court ruled in Medellin v. Texas [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], that Bush did not have the authority to direct a state court to comply with a ruling from the ICJ. However, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Congress could make the treaty binding in domestic law. Texas has already executed two Mexican nationals [JURIST report] who were denied consular access.