Today, Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national who was tried, convicted and sentenced to die in the state of Texas without ever being given access to the Mexican consulate. Most agree his sentence would have been different if he had been given that access. It is certain that his lawyer would have been different – Mexico pays for experienced lawyers to defend against death penalty cases for its citizens.
Texas violated Leal’s rights under Vienna Convention on Consular Relations when it neglected to inform him of his right to consult the Mexican consulate upon his arrest. The Texas authorities don’t even deny that – they simply say, in legalese, “too bad.” Because of their ability to rely on the hypertechnical timing requirements of state and federal law, Texas prosecutors can afford to ignore a legitimate legal claim. Not deny the claim, mind you – just ignore it.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that Leal was entitled to that remedy by way of a court review to determine if his sentence would have been different if he had been given access to the consulate. A bill is pending in Congress that would give him the right to a hearing. The Obama administration, the United Nations and the country of Mexico all petitioned the Supreme Court to order Texas hold off on the execution until Congress has time to make the fix. Even President George W. Bush – whose support for the death penalty during time as governor of Texas is well known -- said states should comply with the ICJ decision.
But Texas ignored the ICJ, along with the requests of Obama and Bush, the U.N. and the Mexican government and the pleas of former diplomats, Justice Department officials, judges and prosecutors. Texas went ahead with the execution, even disregarding the actions of other states like Oklahoma which, when faced with the same choice, opted to commute the death sentence of a Mexican national to life in prison.
The execution of Leal flies in the face of international treaties by which we are all bound, and it poses a real danger to the many Americans travelling abroad who have always counted on the American embassy for legal assistance. Texas refused to recognize the importance of giving a Mexican national access to the Mexican consulate, and in doing so turned its back on American students, aid workers and members of the military overseas who depend on our consulate in times of distress. Texas courts and politicians talk piously about the importance of “the rule of law,” but that rule only works when the law is followed by all, for all.
Despite it all, Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia today. Our foreign allies and enemies alike may well wonder how important treaties are to the United States. Unfortunately, when it comes to the death penalty, it seems the eyes of the entire world just don’t matter in Texas.