Court doesn't mess with Texas; denies new trial: The Swamp
The Swamp
Posted March 25, 2008 12:15 PM
The Swamp

by James Oliphant

Texas has wanted to put Jose Medellin to death for a long time. It looks like the state is going to get its way.

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday sided with Texas against the Bush administration in a highly charged dispute over whether international treaty obligations can affect state criminal proceedings.

In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court rejected the administration's claim that Texas should abide by a ruling from a world court that Medellin merited a new trial. Medellin is a Mexican native who has lived most of his life in the United States.

In 1993, Medellin and a gang of boys in Houston attacked, raped and murdered two teenage girls walking home. He was arrested, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death.

After Medellin was convicted, Mexico brought suit in the International Court of Justice, the judicial body of the United Nations, charging that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention. That treaty requires that foreign nationals arrested in a signatory country be allowed to meet with a consular official from their home country. It's a tool treasured by diplomats, American and otherwise, worldwide.

Mexico brought suit because is critical of capital punishment in the United States. Mexico claimed that Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on Death Row in the U.S. had been denied their right to consult with its consulate, where they would have received legal assistance in an effort to avoid a death sentence.

The international court found for Mexico in 2004 and told the U.S. to review the convictions and death sentences of the 51 Mexican nationals.

The White House criticized the ruling, but in 2005 it startled Texas officials and others by saying it would comply. President Bush ordered the Texas courts to allow Medellin's habeas corpus claim challenging his conviction to go forward.

Texas state courts have found repeatedly that under state law, Medellin has no right to challenge his conviction and sentence, even if the Vienna treaty was violated. There is no dispute that Medellin wasn't notified of his treaty rights when he was arrested, but the state has argued he failed to raise that objection at trial, forfeiting the claim.

The Bush administration claimed a memo signed by Bush had the force of federal law on the state, ordering it to set aside Medellin's conviction. In the opinion released today, it's clear the majority of the court didn't buy that. Moreover, the court seems to suggest that the United States' international treaty obligations don't obligate the country to do very much.

The six-justice majority held that the treaties involved were not "self-executing," meaning they required an act of Congress to implement its obligations and give them the force of federal law. Bush's memorandum, the court held, exceeded his executive branch authority.

The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a California-based group which filed a friend-of-the-Court brief on behalf of the family of one of the two teen-aged girls Medellin murdered, had argued in support of today’s decision. The organization said Tuesday it expects Medillin to be executed as soon as the Supreme Court rules in the pending case involving the protocol used to put prisoners to death.

“The controversy over a treaty signed 45 years ago has delayed justice in this case which involves a brutal, remorseless murderer,” said Kent Scheidegger, the foundation’s legal director. “As soon as the lethal injection controversy is resolved, which we expect to happen this year, justice can finally be carried out in this case,” he added.

"We are disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision, " said Donald Francis Donovan, the New York lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Medeillin, "which is a departure from the original intent of the framers of the Constitution and over 200 years of enforcement of treaties by U.S. courts." Donovan called on the White House and Congress to work to implement the obligations of the Vienna treaty to give international court judgments some force of law. "Having given its word, the United States should keep its word," Donovan said.

You can read the Supreme Court's decision here.

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Treaty-schmeaty, executing foriegn nationals without giving them access to consular officials, that could never come back to hurt Americans could it?

The Bush administration violating international law and wanting to kill someone against prescribed law... old news.?

He had every chance to ask for access to consular officials at trial. That's the argument Roberts makes in his opinion. It's a good ruling.

CLEARLY, this was the correct Supreme Court decision. This is why it is so important to have the right, fair and reasonable people appointed to the Supreme Court. I can easily guess that no crime would ever be heinous enough for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to uphold a fairly earned, jury assessed death penalty in this particular case which I am very familiar with. I would make a guess that John Paul Stevens saw it the same way as Ginsburg. The dude would be free on the streets, if it were up to either of these two unfailingly worthless liberal judges.

Thanks for weighing in on this, Scott from Houston. Some of us were unsure whether the average fat moron from Texas would favor the death penalty in this or any other circumstance.

Couple points.

1. Stevens voted with the majority, i.e., in favor of death in this instance. So, like so many things in your wretched, your guess was wrong.

2. Of the 9 justices, exactly two were appointed by Democrats. Souter, who dissented, was appointed by a guy named Bush.

The Bush administration violating international law and wanting to kill someone against prescribed law... old news.?

Posted by: Brian | March 25, 2008 1:07 PM

Brian @ 1:07 P.M.,

READ THE DAMN STORY!!! President Bush WANTED to have the case reviewed in hopes that the death penalty would be over-turned!!! The only reason that anyone in Tx can determine that he would want that is because of his friendship with Vicente Fox and possibly to maintain good relations as possible with Mexico. I am all for that too, but the rapist-murderer in this case has duly earned the death penalty. He had his fricking chance.

Your uncontained hatred for President Bush is clearly apparent. It wouldn't HURT to at least read the article first, before you make your stupid comment. democrats and HATE. I am beginning to think that those are SYNONYMS. At least, READ something every now and then, stupid people!

B. V. Scott

a blinkin @ 1:50 p.m.

I took a guess on Stevens, and I was wrong. Souter would surely have been my second guess. Am fully aware of who appointed them. They are still worthless.

YES! When someone has worked hard to receive the death penalty, most, but definitely not all Texans, would like to see that they get what they have fairly earned. It invariably, will save some innocent person from becoming an unwilling victim at some future date, a non-complicated Texas concept. There is a point where we do give up on the idea of rehabilitation. A government should have some interest in protecting its citizens, not actively engaged in violent crime.

No Scott, you need to read the story. The issue wasn't overturning the death penalty at all.

If the case had gone the other way at the Supreme Court, Medellin would have been retried, this time with access to official from the Consulate, as the Treaty requires. He still could have recieved the death penalty when he was reconvicted.

Treaty requirements work two ways Scott. If we want Americans tried for crimes in Mexico to have access ro consular officials, we must provide the same access.

President Bush was interfering with Texas’ state power to execute Jose Medellin (who confessed to killing those girls, including screaming, “Die bitch” while he stepped on one girl’s neck while strangling her with his belt).

Jose Medellin came to our country illegally and raped and murdered our children. I don’t give a damn what country he’s from --- he should be put to death by our country in accordance with our laws…International law be damned.

Brian and JT, true Dingaling Loony Leftists. The Bush administration sided with Medellin, NOT Texas.

Anyway, the Loons on the Left, true to their anti-American selves, are more ocncerned about Medllin than the two girls who were raped and murdered.

You Loons keep wanting to give illegals ALL the rights U.S. citizens have. You Loons want to give them ALL the benefits of American citizens. You want them to get tax rebate checks, free schooling, welfare, free health care, etc. But the moment one of them kills an American, then you want international laws to rule.

Sorry, but I am siding with the raped and murdered teen girls on this one. The sooner Medellin is executed, the better off mankind will be.

Medellin had every chance to get consular advice during his original trial and the MANY not overturned appeals. You can't use missing out on consular advice as a crutch to avoid standing trial for the heinous crime of murder. Especially when it was there for the asking the entire time between his arrest and trial.

The Bush administration reluctantly took up Medellin's case because Mexico got all angry about it. That's just good foreign relations. The Supreme Court did its job and rejected the argument that foreign relations trump the laws against murdering american citizens. The system worked here.

Americans better not travel abroad anymore. After torturing foreigners, prisoning them without any defence, now the USA violates again international law. It looks like the USA is becoming more and more a rough state, the likes of Iran, China, Sudan and other countries that still practice capital punishment, and do not apply the rule of law.... ets

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Posted by: JT | March 25, 2008 2:20 PM


Scott was talking about the death penalty imposed on this guy; and not the death penalty in general. He was complaining that Bush wanted to allow this Medellin character an opportunity to have his death sentence reviewed and possibly overturned. If his conviction or sentence was overturned on this ICJ ground, his death penalty would have been overturned too.

Speaking of countries being nice to other countries: While the Left bemoans the fate of Medellin, there are cop killers and other murderers who went back to Mexico and Mexico refuses to expidate them back to the U.S. The Loons on the Left don't peep a word about that.
But then the Left hates America, hates Americans and has bloodthirst love for every time and American is killed.

Speaking of countries being nice to other countries: While the Left bemoans the fate of Medellin, there are cop killers and other murderers who went back to Mexico and Mexico refuses to expidate them back to the U.S. The Loons on the Left don't peep a word about that.
But then the Left hates America, hates Americans and has bloodthirst love for every time an American is killed.

I just finished reading the case. It’s a very interesting decision indeed, but hardly one that breaks any new ground.

However, it does raise an interesting question regarding police practices, especially in the so-called “sanctuary cities” around the country. Many of them, including San Francisco, Los Angles and Washington D.C., have explicit policies and protocols which prohibit law enforcement personnel from asking about the national origin of a suspect in order to enforce immigration laws. In the event Congress responds to the Medellin case by requiring local police to advise foreigners of their consular rights, would that not also require those police to inquire regarding immigration status in questionable cases in order to advise suspects of those right? And then, if so, wouldn’t any answer that indicated a suspect’s illegal immigrant status become available to enforce the immigration laws?

It seems perfectly clear that Mexico cannot have it both ways. If they want the benefit of sanctuary protection for their citizens (which has been furnished illegally) then they have to realize it will be jeopardized by also insisting on having the police advise foreigners of their rights to consular assistance. Police aren’t mind readers, and it would be oppressive to require them to advise everyone of the right to consular assistance instead of allowing them to ask simple enough questions to determine if such advise is pertinent. What to do? What to do?

Thank you, John W. @ 3:25 p.m.

I understand how easy it is someone to mis-interpret a post. At some point though, I have to just let it go and give my employer my attention. Do not have the time to explain everything. Thank you, John W.

John W-

What is the rational for not enforcing a treaty obligation in this case? That's the real issue, not anything specific to Medellin or his crime. That's what I'm trying to get at.

Even if legally the Supreme Court has ruled correctly on the natter (which I have doubts about), it seems to me that the State of Texas is being remarkably short sighted in their handling of this case. These kind of Treaty obligation protect a great many americans overseas, to toss them aside because the State of Texas doesn't want to retry this guy seems like some really bad judgement.

Speaking of countries being nice to other countries: While the Left bemoans the fate of Medellin, there are cop killers and other murderers who went back to Mexico and Mexico refuses to expidate them back to the U.S. The Loons on the Left don't peep a word about that.
But then the Left hates America, hates Americans and has bloodthirst love for every time an American is killed.

Posted by: John D | March 25, 2008 4:00 PM
Yawn. Posted twice by little johnny dyslin from streamwood, because he is so angry he has to hit the enter button twice to make sure his safe, family approved version of hatred gets posted. These cliches are getting so old, they are cliches of themselves.

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Posted by: JT | March 25, 2008 5:21 PM


It works like this: Not all treaties are self-executing. There are times when the terms of a treaty require further action by Congress in order to make the agreed-upon terms into domestic law. That is the default situation in the absence of contrary language in the treaty itself. A good example of that was the CAT treaty (the Convention Against Torture). In the case of the CAT treaty, the United States Congress passed several laws embodying the prohibition against torture to make it the domestic law of this country. In contrast, a self-executing treaty is one where the explicit language of the treaty makes it so, such that the Senate, in ratifying it, had to understand that it would be self-executing without further domestic legislation.

The treaty signed by the United States regarding the Vienna Convention (regarding consular rights) was not a self-executing one. It required further legislation from Congress to turn it into domestic law, and no such enabling legislation was ever enacted. This, according to the USSC, was plain on the face of treaty’s terms – because the enforcement mechanism for the treaty still involved international bodies, and it did not explicitly state that individuals obtained any personal rights under it. Furthermore, the Court correctly observed that the President’s letter to Texas and some of the other States did not satisfy the requirement of a domestic law to enforce the treaty – because (surprise, surprise) the President has no law making power. [I’ve been saying this for some time with regard to his “signing statements” – but nobody has been listening then either.]

None of the court’s analysis was groundbreaking. The rules regarding self-executing versus non-self-executing treaties are all from the 19th Century. Nor was it surprising for the Court to say that the President has no lawmaking power. The Supreme Court has been saying that since the Civil War. That’s why Chief Justice Taney said President Lincoln didn’t have the power to suspend habeas corpus without an act of Congress. The same rules have been reiterated over and over. I don’t think the Court even cited a case, as controlling, that was more recent than 60 years old.

Nor can I agree with you that Texas was being short sighted with regard to their handling of this case. It is doubtful, in the first place, that Texas authorities even knew the rule regarding consular rights even applied to Medellin because he had lived in Texas since he was in pre-school. I don’t know, but I saw no indication from the facts stated in the case that he ever offered to tell anyone that he was a foreign national. How were they supposed to know?

Furthermore, Medellin confessed three hours after his arrest. The treaty only requires advise of the rights to consular assistance to be given within three days after arrest. There is no indication that the State of Texas took unfair advantage of its failure to advise him of his rights to consular assistance. Medellin had an attorney to defend him and he participated in his own trial; in which case, he had every opportunity to complain to the Texas courts that he wasn’t adequately afforded his rights. Thus, there doesn’t appear to be the slightest indication that failure to abide by the terms of the non-self-executing treaty had any measurable impact on the truth-finding process of the trial, his ability to adequately present a defense, or even his ability to raise any issues in his first, direct appeal from his conviction and sentence. That, in fact, was the ruling of the Texas court that heard and denied his first habeas corpus petition. It is also why the Texas court to hear his second habeas petition denied it as an abuse of the writ. In short, Texas officials are scratching their heads, wondering how or why a new trial would afford Medellin a more favorable outcome. And, you know what? They have a point.

You see, JT, a criminal defendant just can’t play with the system. There are rules that require people to raise objections and claims in a timely fashion, and to make all of their claims at once unless there is a good reason for failing to do so. It’s a waste of the courts’ time to needlessly litigate serial claims piecemeal; and the courts don’t have to put up with it. His claims should have been raised in the trial court and then on appeal. Failure to do so normally means that a person has waived or abandoned such claims for habeas corpus review. That is even true if one is raising rights under the United States Constitution (which ARE self-executing). If that’s the case, one has to ask why on earth would he have any greater rights to litigate non-constitutional rights any time he wants – such as those which allegedly arose from the non-self-executing treaty?

The beef here, in any event, is between Mexico and the federal government. The federal government is the one that fell down on the job by not enacting legislation to execute the terms of the treaty in domestic legislation. The only thing that can happen and, perhaps, ought to happen, is for Congress to finally enact a law requiring all domestic law enforcement officers to advise foreign nationals of their rights to consular assistance.

Posted by: Scott - Houston, Tx | March 25, 2008 4:55 PM

You’re welcome, Scott.

Well John W, you sure make it sound like a treaty signed and ratified by the United States of America is generally absolutely worthless.

What a shining example we are to the nations of the world. How do we presume to lecture other nations about their treaty obligations.

I don't understand all the commotion over a piece of trash like medellin...he brutally raped and murdered two beautiful young girls on their way home from friends' party...I favor very, very slow and painful death to murderers in cases like this, but the World Court and Mexico seemingly feel that the rights of a heinous murderer outway the rights of 2 dead victims who would now have been in their late 20's with college degrees, good jobs, husbands, and several children...but, because of Medallin their last memories are ones of terror and pain....if the World Court wants to know what I think of them and their decicision, they may contact me anytime...I promise to give them a very direct, and straight answer.

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Posted by: JT | March 25, 2008 10:06 PM

I wouldn’t say that a treaty signed and ratified by the United States of America is worthless. I simply pointed out that treaties sometimes take more effort to implement than simple ratification – especially when they propose to effect a change in U.S. domestic law. I also pointed out that, in this case, that extra leg work wasn’t done by Congress as it ought to have. That is one treaty out of many that are dealt with each year. The overwhelming majority of the treaties approved by the Senate are dealt with properly.

And, if you think the United States is bad at keeping its promises regarding treaties, you haven’t seen anything. Go take a good look at Mexico’s compliance with the terms of its extradition treaty with the U.S. It has no duty under the treaty to extradite Mexican nationals to the United States. But it does have a duty to put them on trial, and to punish them of they are convicted, for offenses committed in the U.S in lieu of extradition. 85% of the time, the Mexican government entirely fails to do so. The remaining 15% of the time, the offenders are acquitted or meted out sentences that are next to nothing. Because of this, Mexico is the destiny of choice – a safe haven as it were – for Mexican nationals fleeing American justice.

Finally, I don’t think the Medellin case is a good example of a treaty gone bad. As I mentioned, Medellin never tried to assert his rights to consular help until after his conviction and sentence were affirmed. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the jury at his trial would have reached a different or more favorable result had he been afforded his right to advise regarding consular assistance. It wasn’t until many years later that the Mexican government – which is hostile to the death penalty being inflicted upon Mexican nationals – decided to use the ICJ to force some compromise regarding Medellin. The United States, and Texas in particular, do not have to put up with the political posturing of a foreign government or a criminal defendant for immaterial and inconsequential lapses in compliance with treaty terms. Mexico was trying to make hay out of something that made no difference, and they just got called on it.

The reason that some treaties require more than a signature is that our Constitution has enshrined the separation of powers. Checks and balances. The President can't just sign a treaty and change domestic law because that's not within his power. Under the Constitution, Congress is the legislative branch. So, non self-executing treaties need implementing legislation from Congress. This is how it has always been because of our form of government. Other countries that sign treaties with the United States are aware that they are not effective until Congress passes laws to implement the treaty. In fact, if you researched trade and investment treaties, you would find that there are many ratified treaties that are awaiting implementing legislation from either the United States or the other signing party.

U.S. Treaties are meaningful once they've been implemented and become law. When they've been ratified, but have not yet been implemented, then under the Constitution, it's true that they're not worth that much yet. Don't confuse ratification with the later date when treaties go into law.

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