- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Lawyers for two foreign nationals convicted of violent crimes in the United States pressed the Supreme Court yesterday to overturn their convictions.

Police violated the rights of the two men — one from Honduras, the other from Mexico — by not telling them that they could seek legal help from their countries’ governments, as required by a 1969 treaty, the lawyers contended.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked why police — and not the men’s attorneys — should be required to inform them of their right to seek legal help from their countries’ consulates.

If the lawyer does not inform the client, that could be the basis for a claim of ineffective counsel — not a violation of the treaty, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said.

But Mark Stancil, an attorney for Mario Bustillo, a Honduran convicted of killing a Virginia teen with a baseball bat, said a defense lawyer may have a conflict of interest.

“The first words out of the mouth of the consulate [official] could be, ‘Fire this guy and get a new lawyer,’” Mr. Stancil said.

Peter Gartlan, attorney for Moises Sanchez-Llamas, a Mexican convicted of attempted murder for wounding an Oregon police officer in a 1999 gunfight, asked the justices to place themselves in the shoes of an American held abroad, say, in Damascus, Syria.

“If you are given a dime, and you can call a local attorney assigned by the [Syrian] court, or the U.S. consulate, you are going to call the consulate,” Mr. Gartlan said. “It’s more comfortable, more familiar” to deal with a fellow American.

Similarly, he said, foreigners in this country should be allowed to seek help from their governments.

Justice Antonin Scalia challenged that, saying that although talking to countrymen may be more comfortable, the consulate may be less helpful than a local lawyer, who should be more familiar with local laws.

The court’s decision, expected before July, could affect the appeals of thousands of foreign citizens in U.S. prisons and jails.

Under the 1969 Vienna Convention, foreigners arrested in the United States have a right to contact their consulate. U.S. citizens have the same right if they are arrested in one of the 168 countries that signed the treaty.

Police in the United States do not routinely tell arrested foreign nationals that they can call their consulate. Some legal specialists say requiring them do so could amount to an expansion of so-called Miranda rights, which require police to tell suspects that they have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer.

Sanchez-Llamas was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for wounding a Medford, Ore., police officer in December 1999.

Although police told Sanchez-Llamas in English and Spanish that he had a right to a lawyer, they did not say he had a right to contact the Mexican Consulate in Portland, about 270 miles away.

Bustillo is serving a 30-year prison sentence in the 1997 slaying of 18-year-old James Merry outside a Popeye’s fried chicken restaurant in Springfield, Va. Bustillo’s new attorneys are trying to win a new trial.

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