The Issue of Foreign Nationals in the Courts

The case of Humberto Leal Garcia (executed in Texas on July 7, 2011)

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

Journalist Who Was Arrested Abroad Emphasizes Importance of Consular Access

Leal’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court (Leal was denied a stay of execution by a vote of 5-4 with Justice Breyer writing for the dissent)

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

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

Medellin: U.S. Supreme Court Exempts Texas Courts from World Court Ruling

On March 25, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Medellin v. Texas (No. 06-984) that the President does not have the authority to order states to bypass their procedural rules and comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Even apart from the President’s powers, the Court held that Texas is not obligated to give Mr. Medellin an additional hearing because the Protocol governing the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is not “self-executing” and would require an act of Congress to make it binding on the states. Texas executed Jose Medellin on Aug. 5, 2008.

Earlier Proceedings

On April 30, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear Medellin v. Texas to determine whether dozens of Mexican foreign nationals on death row in the U.S. are entitled to a new hearing because they were denied their right to seek consular assistance upon their arrest. The Bush administration and the Mexican government both urged the Justices to take the case after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to comply with President Bush’s order to state courts to review the cases of the 50 Mexican foreign nationals who had been denied their rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The Bush administration’s brief noted that the Texas court’s decision, if not reversed, “will place the United States in breach of its international law obligation” to comply with the World Court’s decision and would “frustrate the president’s judgment that foreign policy interests are best served by giving effect to that decision.”

Jose Medellin is a Mexican citizen who has been on Texas’ death row since 1993. This is the second time his case has come before the U.S. Supreme Court. After the ICJ ruling in 2004, Texas refused to review Medellin’s case, and he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for relief. The Court agreed to hear his case, but before it could be decided, President Bush ordered the respective state courts to provide the review required by the ICJ. The Supreme Court then dismissed Medellin’s case to allow states time for this review. When Texas courts again refused to grant such a review, claiming that President Bush did not have the power to give such an order, Medellin appealed to the Supreme Court for a second time. The Court had been asked to consider whether President Bush overstepped his authority to order state review of the cases and whether state courts are required to comply with the ICJ’s ruling. (Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984; see N.Y. Times, May 1, 2007.)

Earlier Supreme Court Consideration of Medellin

On December 10, 2004, the U. S. Supreme Court first agreed to hear the case of Jose Medellin to determine what effect the United States should give to a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice at the Hague, the United Nations’ highest court (see below). The case is Medellin v. Dretke, No. 04-5928. (Associated Press, December 10, 2004). (Note: This case was dismissed without being decided.)

International Court Finds U.S. in Violation of Treaty

On March 31, 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decided in favor of Mexico, finding that the United States violated the rights of most of the 51 Mexican citizens currently on death row across the country. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which the U.S. has ratified, declares that foreign citizens shall have the right to speak with diplomatic officials upon arrest. The Mexican defendants named in the suit argued that they were denied that right and the court agreed. The ICJ said that U.S. courts must review the convictions and sentences in each case. At least one of the defendants, Osvaldo Torres, is facing an imminent execution date in Oklahoma.

Decision of the ICJ

ICJ Press Release Announcing the Decision

Recent Editorials on the Court’s Decision

DPIC: Foreign Nationals on US Death Rows

DPIC Report: International Perspectives on the Death Penalty