- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2007


Neither the president nor an international court can tell Texas how to treat criminal defendants, the state’s top Supreme Court advocate told the justices in arguments yesterday over the fate of a Mexican citizen on death row.

Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz said Jose Ernesto Medellin received a fair trial and adequate representation even though he was not notified of his right under the 1963 Vienna Convention to request help from Mexican diplomats when he was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing two teenagers in Houston.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts should review the convictions and sentences for Medellin and 50 other Mexican-born prisoners because of the treaty violation. President Bush has ordered that the ruling be enforced through new hearings in state courts.

During arguments yesterday, the justices threw questions at attorneys for Medellin, the U.S. government and Texas in a case that mixes Bush administration claims of executive power with the role of international law in state court proceedings.

Several justices suggested that U.S. ratification of an agreement promising to abide by the international court’s decisions is a sufficient basis for ruling in Medellin’s favor.

The administration’s position is that Mr. Bush’s declaration that the ruling should be enforced is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a new hearing.

Justice Antonin Scalia reacted skeptically.

“You’re telling us we don’t need Congress. The president can make it domestic law” on his own, he said.

Texas courts have said that the international court ruling has no weight in Texas and that Mr. Bush has no power to order its enforcement.

Medellin was arrested after the killings of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in June 1993. He was told that he had a right to remain silent and have an attorney present, but police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican Consulate under the treaty.

Medellin, who speaks, reads and writes English, gave a written confession. He was convicted of murder in the course of a sexual assault, a capital offense in Texas. He was sentenced to death in October 1994.

Texas acknowledges that Medellin was not told that he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats but argues that he forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing. The state argues that the diplomats’ intercession would not have made any difference in the outcome of the case.

State and federal courts rejected Medellin’s claim when he raised it on appeal.

In 2003, Mexico sued the U.S. in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row in the U.S. who had been denied access to their country’s diplomats after their arrests.

Mexico has no death penalty. Mexico and other opponents of capital punishment have sought to use the international court to fight for foreigners facing execution in the U.S.

The international court ruled for Mexico in 2004, saying the sentences and convictions should be reviewed by U.S. courts.

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