FOREIGN NATIONALS: Obama Administration and U.N. High Commissioner Seek Relief for Texas Death Row Inmate

On July 1, the Administration of President Barack Obama joined former government officials and national organizations intervening in the case of Texas death row inmate Humberto Leal Garcia. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Leal's execution scheduled for July 7. The Solicitor General wrote that Leal's execution "would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international-law obligation to afford (Leal) review and reconsideration of his claim that his conviction and sentence were prejudiced by Texas authorities' failure to provide consular notification and assistance under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations."  In a 30-page brief, the Administration also stated that complying with obligations to "notify consuls in such cases would serve U.S. interests as well as those of the condemned man," including "protecting Americans abroad, fostering cooperation with foreign nations, and demonstrating respect for the international rule of law."  The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also written a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking the governor to commute Leal's sentence to life in prison.

2011 Death Penalty Update

Between January and the end of June 2011, there were 25 executions in 9 states.  During the same time period last year, there were 29 executions.  Of the executions this year, 8 were carried out using the drug sodium thiopental, while 17 involved a new drug, pentobarbital. Earlier in 2011, Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced that it would no longer manufacture the drug, forcing states to search for foreign sources or alternative drugs for their lethal injections.  Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. Ohio is the only one of those 7 states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  In the first half of 2011, 18 clemencies have been granted, commuting the defendant's death sentence to life without parole. Fifteen of the commutations were in Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill repealing the state's death penalty. The repeal goes into effect today, Juy 1.  Seventy-six percent (76%) of the cases resulting in executions so far this year involved the murder of at least 1 white victim, even though generally whites are victims of murder less than 50% of the time.

NEW RESOURCES: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country.  California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years.  Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

NEW VOICES: Journalist Who Was Arrested Abroad Emphasizes Importance of Consular Access

Journalist Euna Lee (pictured), who was imprisoned in North Korea along with her colleague, Laura Ling, recently wrote an op-ed  in the Washington Post on the importance of consular access for individuals arrested outside their home countries. Lee was reporting for Current TV when she and Ling were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Only when the Swedish ambassador, who represented U.S. interests in North Korea, reminded Korean officials of their responsibilty to uphold the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was Lee able to communicate with the U.S. government. As an execution of a foreign national approaches in Texas, Congress is currently considering legislation that would ensure judicial review of death penalty cases in which foreign nationals in the U.S. were denied access to their consulates. According to Lee, "This legislation is not only a matter of honoring our obligations to such inmates.  There are still many American journalists, aid workers, missionaries, members of the military and tourists detained in foreign countries. For all of them, and for their fearful families at home, there is nothing more important than upholding the reciprocal right to consular protection." 

Texas Makes Progress on Improving Criminal Justice System

Recent legislation passed in Texas indicates bipartisan support for criminal justice reform in the state. Legislators recently passed an eyewitness-identification bill intended to cut down on the number of victims and witnesses who make mistakes in in-person and photographic line-ups. This new law will require police agencies to adopt procedures and use techniques that help lessen the number of false confessions. Another bill passed recently will make it easier for convicted persons to have DNA materials tested if the testing was not done before the trial or if updated testing techniques might reveal information that is more accurate than previous results. Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that would allow compensation for the wrongfully accused even if orders of release do not specifically include the terms "actual innocence." The bill allows affidavits by a district attorney in the crime's jurisdiction or a special prosecutor who officially investigated the case to provide verification of innocence.

EDITORIALS: Texas Inmate With IQ of 62 Faces Imminent Execution

A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle highlights the case of Texas death-row inmate Milton Mathis, whose IQ of 62 places him well below the threshold for intellectual disability (formerly called "mental retardation"). Mr. Mathis faces execution on June 21, despite the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which banned the execution of inmates with intellectual disabilities. The Chronicle noted, "If put to death, Milton Mathis would have one of the lowest — if not the lowest - undisputed IQ scores of any Texas inmate sentenced to capital punishment since that ruling took effect."  Mathis' lawyers raised this issue in both his state and federal appeals, but the state court rejected the claim, and the federal court denied a stay, not realizing that doing so prevented further litigation in state court. The federal judge later realized her error, but at that point, she lacked jurisdiction to change the ruling. Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said, "What is really troubling is that in this case process has trumped substance. The evidence of mental retardation is compelling, overwhelming, and, because the state courts heard it, the federal courts have not allowed the evidence to be introduced." The Chronicle concluded: "In essence, barring federal intervention or the governor's clemency, Texas will unlawfully and unjustly execute a mentally retarded individual because of legal technicalities and the state's failure to weigh Mathis' clinical condition." Read full editorial below.

Legislation Introduced to Help Enforce Treaty Protecting Those Arrested Outside Their Own Country

On June 14, Senator Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) (pictured) introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act. This bill would establish enforcement mechanisms for U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a key treaty that provides the right to consult with your consulate for citizens detained outside their home country. The U.S. has signed and ratified this treaty, but has not always abided by its terms.  Among other provisions, the act will give jurisdiction to federal courts to review cases of foreign nationals currently on death row in the U.S. who did not receive consular access as required under the treaty. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must review the death sentences and convictions of 50 Mexican nationals who had not been properly notified of their right to consular access. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held that Congress must pass legislation on how the treaty will be enforced before hearings could be required.  The proposed legislation would allow the U.S. to be in line with the ICJ ruling. Senator Leahy said, "Compliance with our consular notification obligations is not a question of partisan interest. Given the long history of bipartisan support for the VCCR, there should be unanimous support for this legislation to uphold our treaty obligations. A failure to act places Americans at risk."

NEW VOICES: Military and Diplomatic Leaders Urge Reprieve for Foreign National Facing Texas Execution

On June 7, a clemency petition was filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting a halt to the July-7 execution of Humberto Leal, a Mexican citizen who was not advised of his consular rights upon arrest for a murder in San Antonio in 1994.  The petition was accompanied by letters from former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, former prosecutors and judges, and assocations of Americans living abroad calling for a stay of execution until Congress can pass legislation to guarantee proper notification in such cases.  The U.S. is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that requires officials to inform foreign nationals of their right to contact their consulate when arrested.  The treaty is designed to protect both U.S. citizens abroad and citizens of other countries in the U.S.  Among the signers of the letter from retired military officers were Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN, and Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA.  They wrote:  "International consular notification and access obligations are essential to ensuring humane, non-discriminatory treatment for both non-citizens in U.S. custody and U.S. citizens in the custody of foreign governments. As retired military leaders, we understand that the preservation of consular access protections is especially important for U.S. military personnel, who when serving our country overseas are at greater risk of being arrested by a foreign government."