FOREIGN NATIONALS: Texas Execution Delayed Following State Department Request

A hearing to set an execution date for Texas death row inmate Humberto Leal was postponed after the presiding judge received a letter from a high-ranking U.S. State Department official. Leal, a Mexican citizen who was sentenced to death in 1995, had already been transferred to Bexar County Jail for the hearing to set the execution date. Harold Hongju Koh, a top legal adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote the judge requesting an indefinite postponement while Congress is working on legislation that could affect Leal’s case. Leal is one of 51 Mexican citizens included in a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (Avena and Other Mexican Nationals) that Mexican foreign nationals on U.S. death rows were not given proper notification of their rights to contact their foreign consulate. Koh said that the case is important in U.S. foreign relations, and wrote that, “The Executive Branch is engaging in consultations with Congress and with the Government of Mexico to determine how best to ensure the United States complies with its obligations under Avena.”

Following the ruling of the ICJ in 2004, then-President George W. Bush ordered the Texas courts to hold hearings to review the cases of the Mexican nationals cited in the ruling. Texas refused, and the U.S. Supreme Court held that Congress would have to pass legislation enforcing the relevant protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in order for Texas to be bound by the ICJ ruling.

(C. Kapitan, “Execution date for teen’s killer in limbo,” San Antonio Express-News, July 16, 2010). See Foreign Nationals and the Death Penalty.