Mexican Citizen on Death Row Appeals Sentence
Lawyers for a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution. They say carrying out his sentence next week would violate an international treaty.
Humberto Leal was convicted of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl in 1994. But he was not made aware of his right to contact the Mexican consulate when he was arrested, a right guaranteed by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
If he’d had access to the consulate’s legal resources, his lawyers argue, he might never have been convicted and sentenced to death.
In fact, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled foreign nationals on death row who were denied consular access, like Leal, were entitled to have their cases reviewed. But Congress has not acted to set up the procedure for those reviews.
“We have an international legal obligation,” said Sandra Babcock, one of Leal’s attorneys. “And the fact that that international legal obligation hasn’t yet been implemented by Congress doesn’t make it any less of a legal obligation.”
A bill that would set up those reviews was introduced in Congress earlier this month.
Babcock argues Leal should stay alive long enough to take advantage of that legislation if it becomes law. In denying Leal’s request for a stay, a lower court judge ruled last week that potential legislation cannot have a bearing on current legal matters.
The argument goes beyond Humberto Leal, however. Lawyers, diplomats and law enforcement officials have made the argument that, if Texas disregards the Vienna Convention provisions granting the right to consular access, there’s nothing to stop other countries from doing the same to Americans.
“So if the United States violates it’s treaty obligations in this case, it’s sending a message to its treaty partners that it doesn’t care about the terms of the treaty, that it feels free to violate it with impunity,” Sandra Babcock said. “And it sends a message that ‘you don’t need to care about your treaty obligations either.’”
Leal has requested a reprieve from Governor Perry. Reached for comment Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for the Governor said that request was still under consideration.