Humberto Leal Garcia Jr. is expected to be executed this afternoon in Huntsville, Tx. But his execution has become less about the fact that he was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl and more about a rare diplomatic showdown between the state, the Obama administration and even the United Nations.
The issue is that Leal is a Mexican citizen and Texas law enforcement officials failed to tell Leal that the Vienna Convention afforded him the right to notify Mexican consular authorities about his arrest and to seek their help with legal representation.
The Obama administration is concerned that if the U.S. does not abide by its Vienna Convention duties then foreign governments may feel emboldened to ignore the consular rights of U.S. nationals abroad.
The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to step in and delay the execution until the end of the year and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry to stay Garcia's execution. But the state and the governor have vowed to move forward. (Update: The Supreme Court has rejected the stay of execution.)
As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported on Morning Edition, it looks like unless the Supreme Court steps in, Garcia will be executed. Wade adds that Perry's aides have made it clear they believe the International Court of Justice has no authority in the state.
ABC News has a bit of background on what that court said:
In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations, determined that Leal and some 50 other Mexican Nationals on death row in the United States were entitled to judicial hearings to determine whether there had been a breach of their rights.
After the ruling, then President George W. Bush directed state courts to review the cases. But Texas pushed back, arguing that state courts were not subject to the rulings of an International Court.
In 2008, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which said that Congress would have to pass legislation in order for the ICJ decision to be enforced.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bill that would do just that, but it has no chance of passing before this afternoon's scheduled execution.
Nicole Allan at The Atlantic asks the big question: If Garcia is executed, does it matter? Allan reports that in 2004 another Mexican citizen was facing the same predicament as Garcia. President George W. Bush asked Texas to reevaluate Jose Medellin's case. The state refused and Medellin was executed in 2008.
So does it matter? Here's Allan:
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.
Garcia's execution may spark enough outrage to spur other countries to stand up to the world's superpower — or it may, like Medellin's, be archived as an interesting legal dispute with little real-world consequence.
Update at 10 p.m. ET. Garcia Is Executed:
The Houston Chronicle reports that Garcia was executed by lethal injection earlier this evening. The paper reports:
"I have hurt a lot of people," [Garcia] said. "Let this be final and be done. I take the full blame for this. I am sorry and forgive me, I am truly sorry."
Leal then began his last statement at 6:10 p.m. and the lethal dose of drugs was administered a minute later.
"I am sorry for the victim's family and what I had did," he continued. "May they forgive me. I don't know if you believe me."
Garcia was pronounced dead at 7:21 p.m. ET.
Update at 6:00 p.m. ET. Supreme Court Rejects Stay Of Execution:
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court declined to stop the execution of Garcia. In the majority opinion, the court refers back to Medellin's case and writes:
Leal and the United States ask us to stay the execution so that Congress may consider whether to enact legislation implementing the Avena decision. Leal contends that the Due Process Clause prohibits Texas from executing him while such legislation is under consideration. This argument is meritless. The Due Process Clause does not prohibit a State from carrying out a lawful judgment in light of unenacted legislation that might someday authorize a collateral attack on that judgment.
The United States does not endorse Leal's due process claim. Instead, it asks us to stay the execution until January 2012 in support of our "future jurisdiction to review the judgment in a proceeding" under this yet-to-beenacted legislation. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 2–3, n. 1. It relies on the fact that on June 14, 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced implementing legislation in the Senate with the Executive Branch's support. No implementing legislation has been introduced in the House.
We reject this suggestion. First, we are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be.