The U.S. Supreme Court tonight denied a stay of execution for that Mexican citizen who had been sitting on death row in Texas for 16 years. The court's vote was 5-4 (the usual suspects) and the majority opinion is full of strong statements:
Petitioner Humberto Leal Garcia (Leal) is a Mexican national who has lived in the United States since before the age of two. In 1994, he kidnapped 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, raped her with a large stick, and bludgeoned her to death with a piece of asphalt. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a Texas court. He now seeks a stay of execution on the ground that his conviction was obtained in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention) ... His argument is foreclosed by Medellín v. Texas ... in which we held that neither the Avena decision nor the President’s Memorandum purporting to implement that decision constituted directly enforceable federal law.
-- snip --
The United States [that is, the U.S. Justice Department] does not endorse Leal’s due process claim. Instead, it asks us to stay the execution until January 2012 in support of our “future jurisdiction to review the judgment in a proceeding” under this yet-to-be enacted legislation ... We reject this suggestion. First, we are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be.
-- snip --
The United States and JUSTICE BREYER complain of the grave international consequences that will follow from Leal’s execution ... Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress. We have no authority to stay an execution in light of an “appeal of the President,” ... presenting free-ranging assertions of foreign policy consequences, when those assertions come unaccompanied by a persuasive legal claim.
Finally, we noted in Medellín II that “[t]he beginning premise for any stay . . . must be that petitioner’s confession was obtained unlawfully,” and that “[t]he United States has not wavered in its position that petitioner was not prejudiced by his lack of consular access.” ... Here, the United States studiously refuses to argue that Leal was prejudiced by the Vienna Convention violation, contending instead that the Court should issue a stay simply in light of the possibility that Leal might be able to bring a Vienna Convention claim in federal court, regardless of whether his conviction will be found to be invalid. We decline to follow the United States’ suggestion of granting a stay to allow Leal to bring a claim based on hypothetical legislation when it cannot even bring itself to say that his attempt to overturn his conviction has any prospect of success. We may note that in a portion of its opinion vacated by the Fifth Circuit on procedural grounds, the District Court found that any violation of the Vienna Convention would have been harmless.
All the public pleading for Humberto Leal claimed that he was denied the right to seek Mexican consular assistance, which, if he had obtained it, would have likely resulted in a lesser sentence. That claim is not true. Nothing in the record shows that Leal ever asked for consular access, or even told the police that he was a Mexican citizen (he had lived in the U.S. - illegally - since he was two years old and represented himself as a U.S. citizen). And in any case, he made his incriminating admissions to the police before they arrested him, and therefore before they had any obligation to inform him of his right to consular assistance.
Even if Leal had had the benefit of Mexican consular access before his trial, that would not have changed the fact that he had incriminated himself, nor change any of the other evidence against him. The lack of consular access, then, was not relevant to his conviction and death sentence.
The Obama administration made the ominous suggestion that, if Texas executes Leal, other nations might reciprocate by denying traveling U.S. citizens their right to consular access if arrested abroad. It's preposterous in principle, and trivializes the extremely egregious crime that Leal committed, to compare his situation to that of a typical U.S. tourist arrested while on a foreign vacation (which happens most frequently to Gringos in Mexico, BTW). And if there is a U.S.-citizen rapist/murderer analogous to Leal somewhere abroad, I only hope that the foreign nation involved will execute that miscreant a lot faster than Texas did Leal.
The matter of reciprocity or Mexican retaliation against U.S. citizens is a real concern, but it is much less important than the interest Texas has in carrying out its state laws and punishing murder. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that when adherence to a treaty such as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is contrary to a state statute, the President cannot override the statute unilaterally, but legislation is required. And as the Supreme Court noted tonight, Congress has not provided that legislation. The Vienna Convention, therefore, has no bearing on the case of Humberto Leal, and Texas was completely free to execute him.
I'm not a big fan of the death penalty - I'm more opposed to abolishing it than in favor of using it - but the murder of 16-year old Adria Sauceda warrants it, and I'm glad the Vienna Convention was not used as an excuse to frustrate justice tonight.