Texas to World: Drop Dead!

The world court sides with Mexican nationals on death row

Cesar Fierro, sentenced to death for the 1980 slaying of El Paso cab driver Nick Castañon, is one of the Mexican nationals whose cases were addressed by the World Court.
Cesar Fierro, sentenced to death for the 1980 slaying of El Paso cab driver Nick Castañon, is one of the Mexican nationals whose cases were addressed by the World Court.

There are 16 Mexican nationals on Texas death row in Livingston. A March 31 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, also known as the World Court, requires that almost all of them get a new hearing to determine whether the violation of their rights under an international treaty tainted their convictions. But the Texas attorney general's office is not in any hurry to act on the decision, and Gov. Rick Perry apparently believes – erroneously – that the decision isn't binding on the state of Texas.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which the U.S. is a signatory, requires that any foreign national arrested in a signatory country must be informed of the right to contact his or her consulate for assistance. The U.S. Constitution requires that any treaty signed by the federal government must be honored by the states. The court found that 51 Mexican citizens held on death row all over the country were not advised of their rights and ordered the United States to provide a mechanism for review of the claims. Attorneys representing the U.S. government conceded that the treaty provisions had been ignored in these cases.

Mexico's claim to the World Court – which the United States has acknowledged has jurisdiction in the dispute – asserted that the ability of the Mexicans to get a fair trial was impaired by the lack of assistance from the consulate. Particularly in death penalty cases, Mexico argued, assistance from the consulate could enhance the chances of obtaining a competent attorney and the ability to present mitigating evidence which could help secure a sentence other than death. Mexico does not employ the death penalty, and U.S. capital punishment has been an emotional and contentious issue between the two countries for many years. (On Wednesday, UT's Mexican Center hosted an all-day binational symposium to discuss how the death penalty has impacted Mexican history, its Constitution, and the bilateral relationship between Texas and Mexico, in conjunction with an exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection: "La Última Pena: Five Centuries of Capital Punishment in Mexico.")

The world court's decision did not go as far as Mexico requested – it had asked that all the affected death sentences be invalidated – but the court did rule that the clemency process was insufficient to protect the rights of the Mexican nationals and that full judicial review of every claim was required. Two Texas inmates, Cesar Roberto Fierro and Roberto Moreno Ramos, were given special consideration by the World Court because they have exhausted their appeals.

According to Sandra Babcock, director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Project, "The court was very clear that they are entitled to a new mechanism – a judicial process – for review of their claims." But according to Texas Assistant Attorney General Edward Marshall, Texas currently has no plans to change the procedures for handling claims regarding violations of the treaty. Asked about the impact of the World Court decision, he replied: "I don't think it is going to change anything."

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International Court of Justice, World Court, Vienna Convention, death penalty, Cesar Roberto Fierro, Roberto Moreno Ramos, Sandra Babcock, Edward Marshall

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