Humberto Leal is dead. Does this threaten our own rights?

As I posted recently (“The Right to Access Your Consulate”), Humberto Leal was scheduled for execution by the state of Texas yesterday. Despite appeals from a large number of external actors (the UN, Obama, and apparently 4 of our current Supreme Court justices), Texas Governor Rick Perry decided to continue with the execution. As I stated in that previous post, at issue is the right of a foreigner to get assistance from their own country’s consulate (and to be told of this right) when arrested. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that codified this right has been a relatively straightforward deal for most countries. We seem to be creating most of the problems (and of course, the fact that we allow for the death penalty in some states, while many other countries do not, brings more attention to our cases).

It is now up to Congress to pass legislation to make sure that we no longer run afoul of our international legal obligations. Fortunately, there is a bill in the pipeline. Let’s just hope that Congress acts soon.

2 thoughts on “Humberto Leal is dead. Does this threaten our own rights?

  1. Professor Nelson,
    Isn’t the issue present with Leal slightly different? In that he was already convicted and it’s essentially an issue of appeal and not necessarily of pre-trial rights. I haven’t done the research, but I’m not sure whether or not perhaps there’s a gap in the ability to contact the consulate between a charged defendant and a convicted felon among Americans abroad.

    It could also just be that Texas is the most trigger happy state in the Union re: the death penalty.


  2. Max,
    This is not strictly about appeal as much as it is about a right to judicial review to ascertain whether Leal was harmed (whether the verdict and sentencing might have been different) because he was not informed of his consular rights when he was arrested. The key issue in terms of the reciprocal rights we may want to protect as Americans is the obligation on the part of states to inform foreigners of their consular rights. In terms of rights after we are convicted, I don’t believe the VCCR has much to say so long as foreigners were informed of their consular rights. The ICJ has said that convicted felons in the US that were never informed of their consular rights should have judicial review. My guess is that they would say the same of convicted felons in any country that is party to the VCCR. Does this address your concern?
    Also, Texas may indeed stand out with regards to the death penalty (a couple quick stats I saw online suggested it is by far the leading “executioner” in the US). So it may attract attention from certain circles abroad for that reason.


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