Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Consular rights and the Medellin case

Mexican national, Jose Medellin, awaits execution in Texas while the U.S. Supreme Court decides the merits of his latest request for a stay of execution.

Mr. Medellin was convicted in the gang-rape and murder of two Texas teenagers in 1993. A total of six gang members were convicted in the double-rape and murder. One member was executed in 1996, two sit on death row (including Mr. Medellin), two had death sentences commuted to life in prison and one is serving 40 years.

In 2004, the World Court ordered a hearing to determine whether Texas' refusal to allow Mr. Medellin to visit with consular officials was a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963).

Article 36(1)(c) of the Vienna Convention reads:

consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison,custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation.They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment. Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.

On July 16, 2008, the World Court, based on its 2004 finding that Mr. Medellin's consular rights were violated, called on the United States to stay the execution but Texas decided to proceed.

As the execution machine in Texas continues its bloodlust, very little thought is given to the protections the Vienna Convention provides to American citizens overseas. We are used to our adversarial system in which, ultimately, a jury of our peers will determine our fate. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that provides trial by jury.In most countries, a panel of judges decides, based on documents filed by the prosecution, what a defendant's fate will be.

The protections provided under the Vienna Convention assure that anyone accused of a crime outside their home country will have the opportunity to discuss the basics of that nation's criminal procedure with a consular official.Should the U.S. and Texas continue to thumb their noses at the World Court, those protections will not be available for any American unfortunate enough to find themselves caught up in another nation's justice system.

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