Skip to comments.World court orders halt to 3 U.S. executions (Oh my God ALERT!)
Posted on 01/16/2004 6:10:07 AM PST by harpu
Osbaldo Torres, a convicted murderer on Oklahoma's Death Row, might have been dead by now -- his appeals exhausted, his time up.
But 15 judges in The Hague, acting at the request of the Mexican government, have ordered his execution stayed for now, so he is alive in a cell in McAlester, awaiting the next move from the Netherlands.
The judges also ordered stays in the cases of Texas Death Row inmates Cesar Fierro Reyna and Roberto Moreno Ramos, both Mexican citizens. Texas officials' response to the court's order could not be learned Thursday night. Execution dates have not been set for Fierro or Moreno.
The three men belong to a subset of Death Row inmates at the center of a struggle that has crossed national borders and raised questions about the death penalty, due process, the reach of international law and the United States' standing in the court of world opinion.
They are among 52 Mexican citizens in eight states whose convictions and death sentences are being challenged by Mexico in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Mexico says the United States violated a treaty guaranteeing that foreigners arrested here would have access to representatives of their government. The international court ordered the United States last February not to kill Torres, Fierro and Moreno, at least until it issues its final ruling, which is expected in the spring.
In Torres' case, the Oklahoma attorney general asked a state appeals court in November to delay the execution "out of courtesy" to the international court. It was an unprecedented act of deference by an American official, legal experts said.
Mexico is seeking to void all 52 convictions and death sentences, contending that its citizens were denied the right to meet promptly with Mexican diplomats. The defendants should therefore be retried, Mexico says, with evidence obtained before such meetings excluded.
Mexico also asked the court to require that the United States honor these consular rights in the future, perhaps by rewriting the standard Miranda warning given to suspects before they are questioned by the police.
In its filings in The Hague, the United States called Mexico's demands "an unjustified, unwise and ultimately unacceptable intrusion into the United States criminal justice system."
Although the United States does not view the rulings of many international bodies as binding, it does acknowledge the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to decide cases brought under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and, in some circumstances, to order nations to comply with the court's interpretation of it. In the Mexican case, however, the United States contends that the court lacks jurisdiction to determine by "highly specific means" what nations must do to comply.
The United States is just one of 165 nations that are parties to the convention, and the United States invokes the convention often when its citizens are detained abroad.
"If you were arrested in Damascus and they gave you a dime," said Donald F. Donovan, a lawyer at Debevoise & Plimpton, which represents Mexico in the case, "would you want to call your court-appointed lawyer or the American embassy?"
The convention requires that arrested foreigners be told of their right to speak with consular officials. If they wish to do so, local officials must contact the appropriate consulate. Both actions, the convention says, must be taken "without delay."
Mexico contends that these obligations are often ignored in the United States and that Mexican officials often learn of arrests of Mexican citizens only years later. The two nations differ about how well Mexico complies with the convention.
The Mexican government says it did not learn of the 1993 arrest of Torres, then 18, until 1996. Torres had lived in the United States since he was 5, prosecutors said.
By the time Mexico learned of the charges against Torres from his relatives, he had already been tried twice for the murder of a couple in front of their children. The first trial ended in a mistrial. The second ended with a death sentence.
When Torres' lawyers then tried to raise the Vienna Convention in his defense, courts said that the defendant was too late and that he would not have benefited from Mexican assistance in any event.
Mexico disputes that.
"When consular protection is permitted to function, life sentences are the likely outcome," Victor Manuel Uribe Avina of the Mexican foreign affairs ministry told the court in The Hague last month.
Mexico says it provides an important "cultural bridge" when its citizens become entangled in the U.S. criminal justice system. Such defendants are often confused, distrustful, unable to speak English and baffled by American procedures, Mexican officials say. If notified, the Mexican government provides lawyers, translators and investigators.
There are 122 foreign citizens from 31 countries on Death Rows in 14 states and the federal system, according to Human Rights Research, a consulting firm that assists lawyers and consulates in death penalty cases involving foreigners. Almost half are from Mexico.
Of the 26 foreign nationals on Texas Death Row, 16 are Mexican citizens.
Three Mexicans have been executed since 2000. In all three cases, the Vienna Convention was violated, Mexico says. In 2002, Vicente Fox, the Mexican president, canceled a trip to President Bush's ranch in Crawford to protest the execution of one of the men, Javier Suarez Medina.
There is little dispute that the United States violated the treaty in most or all of the 52 cases before the court in The Hague. The core issue before the court last month was what should follow from that.
Until not long ago, the government's official position was that an apology should suffice. After the international court decided in 2001 that violations require "review and reconsideration," the United States has taken the position that it has complied with that ruling in the Torres case and others by encouraging governors to consider Vienna Convention claims as part of clemency proceedings.
"The United States says the only remedy a defendant is entitled to is an opportunity to beg for mercy," said Sandra Babcock, a Minneapolis lawyer and the director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program. "But we're talking about a legal right. It requires a legal remedy."
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the three cases. In March, the department's top lawyer acknowledged in a speech to state attorneys general that the pending executions were a matter of concern.
"We have had a number of conversations with government lawyers in both states about these cases," the lawyer, William Howard Taft IV, said.
In November, Torres asked the U.S. Supreme Court to honor the international court's interim order staying his execution. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer indicated that they would be inclined to consider the case once the international court rendered its final judgment.
Drew Edmondson, the Oklahoma attorney general, effectively stopped the execution the same day the Supreme Court failed to act, and Torres remains in a sort of limbo, caught between two legal systems.
Texas FReepers it's time to remind Perry and Abbott they have Texas Laws and Statues to follow, not some pansy-assed World Court interference.
Sorry Okies...looks like your demonRAT state government is putting-it to y'all!
Sounds like a slogan but let's change it a bit-"We don't have to listen to the U.N. and no one does... unless we say they better do it."
And so it does intrude; depending on the state the crime was committed, the death sentence may be ordered. If these were Americans and convicted in Mexico, I wonder just how far we would get in stopping an execution.
I was thinking the same thing.
That's the way it is now, more or less.
That's that. Rev up ol' sparky!
Seriously, Sovreignity is THE issue. If international courts have jurisdiction, we don't have a democracy.
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