Will Texas Execute Humberto Leal Garcia And Risk Relations With Mexico?

[UPDATE] 7/7 6:40 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Thursday a stay plea submitted by the Obama administration to delay the execution of convicted rapist and murderer Humberto Leal Garcia Jr., who is a Mexico national. In a 5-4 vote, the high court refused to postpone Texas' execution by lethal injection of Garcia at 7 p.m. ET. The Obama administration had urged the stay, arguing that executing Humberto could have international repercussions because he was not alerted of his rights as laid out in the Vienna Convention.

[This is a breaking news update. Check CP's earlier story below.]

Humberto Leal Garcia Jr. is set to be executed this afternoon in Texas on a conviction that he raped and murdered a 16-year-old San Antonio girl in 1994.

However, Garcia’s story is far from a standard open-and-shut death penalty case. Instead, it has turned into one involving disputes over international law. Because the disputes have not yet been settled, President Obama and his Solicitor General’s Office have made a rare plea to delay the execution until the end of this year.

The dispute revolves around the fact that Garcia is a Mexican citizen. When he was arrested, U.S. law enforcement failed to alert him of his rights as laid out in the Vienna Convention. Under this convention, Garcia would have the right to contact Mexican consular authorities about his arrest and seek their help with legal representation.

The Vienna Convention of 1961 is an international treaty which lays the groundwork for diplomatic relations between two sovereign nations.

Obama is concerned that if the U.S. does not abide by the Vienna Convention, then this might produce a backlash from international governments and empower them to ignore the consular rights of U.S. nationals abroad. The United Nations' top human rights official and Mexico's ambassador to the United States have both joined the chorus in calling for Texas to delay or block the execution procedure, according to Reuters.

The Solicitor General filed a petition with the Supreme Court last week which claimed that Congress needs more time to consider legislation “that would allow federal courts to review cases of condemned foreign nationals to determine if the lack of consular help made a significant difference in the outcome of their cases,” The Associated Press reported. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. reiterated in the brief the concern that international treaties help the U.S. protect its citizens abroad and advance its foreign policy interests, The Atlantic reports.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule and Garcia’s execution is fast approaching. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time today in Huntsville, Texas.

“There can be little doubt that if the government of Mexico had been allowed access to Mr. Leal (Garcia) in a timely manner, he would not now be facing execution for a capital murder he did not commit,” Leal’s attorneys told the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in a clemency request that was rejected last week, according to AP.

However many, including Texas Governor Perry’s administration, have claimed that Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling.

“Leal’s (Garcia’s) argument is nothing but a transparent attempt to evade his impending punishment,” said Stephen Hoffman, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, n a brief to the Supreme Court.

"If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws, as in this case," said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Perry, according to Reuters.

ABC News has provided background concerning past rulings on this subject. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is the judicial branch of the United Nations, declared in 2004 that Garcia and other Mexican citizens on death row in the U.S. were entitled to judicial hearings to determine whether there had been a breach of their rights.

After the ruling, President George W. Bush required state courts to review their cases. However, Texas fought back, claiming that state courts are not inferior to the rulings of the ICJ or any other foreign court.

The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2008 with the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national who was convicted of rape and murder in Texas. The Court ruled that Congress must pass a bill in order for the ICJ ruling to be enforced. Without such a bill, Medellin was executed.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) responded by introducing a bill that would allow the ICJ ruling jurisdiction in Texas. However, there’s no way it will pass before today’s scheduled execution.

Nicole Allan of The Atlantic asks the question: If Garcia is executed, does it matter?

“The Garcia case has also revealed an uncomfortable truth about international law while often influential, its scope is fundamentally limited, especially in the U.S. When the ICJ directly instructed Texas to change its policies, the state refused, and the Supreme Court sided with Texas over its international cousin. In principle, even-handed arbitration of international disputes sounds reasonable. But, in practice, geopolitics and, sometimes, domestic politics win the day. After all, the U.S. has so far been able to brush aside the Vienna Convention without sacrificing its own interests.”

It is possible that Garcia’s presumed execution will empower other countries to reprimand the US for not abiding by the Vienna Convention. However, if the past is any indication, Garcia’s execution will be shelved as an “interesting legal dispute” alongside Medellin’s without prompting any serious real-world backlash.

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