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U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Intervene in Death Penalty Case

Ten days before death row inmate Humberto Leal's scheduled execution, his attorneys and the Mexican government have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

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Ten days before death row inmate Humberto Leal's scheduled execution, his attorneys and the Mexican government have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution, claiming that Leal's consular rights were violated when he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995.

Leal's lawyers, Maurie Levin and Sandra L. Babcock, filed a petition for writ of certiorari and a stay motion today that will seek to delay his July 7 execution and have the Supreme Court review Leal's case, along with those of other Mexican nationals on death row who were denied the same rights. Leal's lawyers said he was not informed he could consult with the Mexican consulate upon his arrest, violating the Vienna Convention of Consular Rights — a right, some say, that could be the difference between his life and death.

Leal's lawyers allege if Leal had received assistance from the Mexican consulate he could been properly represented at his trial, and the prosecution's case against him would have been challenged. Instead, his court-appointed lawyers were "inexperienced and ineffective," according to a spokesperson for Leal's current attorneys. One of Leal's past lawyers twice failed to adequately represent clients, and was publicly reprimanded two other times. Furthermore, once the Mexican consulate did look at Leal's case, Leal's brain damage and sexual abuse at the hands of a priest was uncovered — both of which, if they had been revealed during his trial, may have led to a lighter sentence, his attorneys argue.

According to Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, an international treaty the U.S. Senate ratified in 1969, authorities of one country should "without delay" inform the consulate of another country if one of its citizens has been arrested or detained. When Leal was arrested and subsequently sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, he was not informed of his consular rights, his attorneys allege.

Now Leal's lawyers are asking the United States to uphold those rights to save Leal's life — as well as to protect the lives of Americans abroad. The petition argues that if the U.S. fails to recognize Leal's rights, then "other nations will be emboldened to violate the consular rights of U.S. citizens arrested in foreign countries."

"The United States’ word should not be so carelessly broken, nor its standing in the international community so needlessly compromised,” Leal's lawyers wrote in the petition's concluding paragraphs about the U.S.'s commitment to consular rights.

His lawyers have already filed a clemency petition asking Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stay his execution. They are still waiting on a decision.

Leal's lawyers are not the only people who think Texas should not execute Leal on July 7. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, introduced legislation titled the "Consular Notification Compliance Act" on June 23 to allow federal courts to review cases of foreign nationals on death row who, like Leal, did not receive consular access. The International Court of Justice already stated in 2004 that Leal was entitled to judicial review, a mandate that the U.S. Supreme Court unanmiously agreed with. But the Supreme Court also said that implementing judicial review was Congress's job. Legislation did not come until Leahy's act.

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Courts Criminal justice Death penalty Texas death row