Supreme Court to Hear Case of Mexican National on Death Row

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national on death row in Texas whose case was heard by the World Court (International Court of Justice in the Hague) last year. Medellin was denied the right to speak with the Mexican consulate after his arrest. The case has important international implications.

The question is whether the federal government can permit Texas to execute a Mexican whose rights under a binding international treaty were violated when he was tried and sentenced to death without Mexican officials being notified.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ordered the United States to undertake "an effective review" of the convictions and sentences of the inmate, José Ernesto Medellín, and 50 other Mexicans under death sentences in nine states. The court, usually known as the World Court, ruled that all 51 had been deprived of their right under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to meet with Mexican government representatives.

Mexico was not notified that Mr. Medellin had been sentenced to death until three years after he arrived on death row. Mexico then sued in the World Court. The World Court did not reverse the conviction, but ordered the U.S. to review each case individually.

In their Supreme Court appeal, the lawyers sought to underscore the importance of the issue by presenting "friend of the court" briefs from international law scholars, former diplomats, international human rights organizations, the European Union and the Mexican government.

While these briefs undoubtedly attracted the court's attention, the justices have also demonstrated growing concern over the administration of the death penalty in Texas and the reviews that the Fifth Circuit gives to appeals from its death row.

The Mexican Government issued this press release on Friday's Supreme Court action.

Medellin4s case was included in Mexico's lawsuit filed before the International Court of Justice (Avena and Other Mexican Nationals), since his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were violated when he was denied the assistance of the Mexican Government during his trial. Nevertheless, unlike the two previous death penalty cases of Mexican nationals, the Court of Appeals which should have properly reviewed and reconsidered Mr. Medellin's case, based on the ruling in the Avena case, rejected the corresponding arguments.

The Mexican Government filed an Amicus Brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case. Further Briefs were presented by several Latin American and European countries, human rights organizations, International Law specialists, former diplomats and U.S. citizens formerly incarcerated abroad, supporting said motion.

....The Mexican Government, through the Secretariat of Foreign Relations, will continue offering him due assistance and support.

Our coverage of the World Court case is here, here, here, and here .

The text of the World Court decision is here (pdf). The World Court's description of the case and links to transcripts is here.

In 2003, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) gave Mexico President Vicente Fox a Champion of Liberty award:

Sandra Babcock, an NACDL member who serves as chief counsel for the Mexican government in cases seeking to convince the United States to honor international due process rights in death penalty cases, said Fox deserves the award. "President Fox has done more than any other world leader to promote respect for international law in the imposition of the death penalty. His most impressive achievement of all was undoubtedly his decision to take the cases of all 51 Mexican nationals on death row to the International Court of Justice."

The award ceremony was in Cancun. I was there and it was a very feel-good affair. Previous winners of this award include death penalty activists Bianca Jagger and Sister Helen Prejean, U.S. Representatives Barney Frank and John D. Conyers, Jr., and journalists Molly Ivins, Bob Herbert, and Maurice Possley.

More TalkLeft coverage of the case is here and here.

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