Foreign Nationals

NEW VOICES: Former Texas Governor Calls for Hearing for Edgar Tamayo

In an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman, former Texas Governor Mark White called for a new hearing for Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican national scheduled for execution on January 22. Foreign nationals charged with crimes in the U.S. are entitled to assistance from their consulate under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but Tamayo was denied that right. White joins U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Mexican Foreign Minister in calling for hearings to determine whether assistance from the Mexican government would have affected Tamayo's case. White highlighted the importance of upholding the Vienna Convention, saying, "If American states, including Texas, fail to honor Vienna Convention rights for citizens of other countries, then how can we expect those other countries to protect our own rights?" He concluded, "I hope that Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott will do the right thing and protect Texas’ integrity at the same time, by allowing a court to hear Tamayo’s claims of prejudice." Read the op-ed below.

Upcoming Death Penalty Events in 2014

As the new year begins, there are several notable events related to the death penalty likely to occur in the next few months. The first execution of the year is scheduled for January 7 in Florida. The execution of Askari Muhammad had originally been scheduled for December 3, 2013, but was stayed due to a challenge to the state's new execution protocol. The Florida Supreme Court approved the new protocol, and the execution was rescheduled, though legal challenges are continuing in federal court. Ohio has scheduled the execution of Dennis McGuire for January 16, and the state plans to use a lethal injection protocol never tried before in any state. Ohio will use midazolam and hydromorphone, drugs formerly listed in the state's backup procedure. This latest change in Ohio was caused by a shortage of the drug pentobarbital, after restrictions on its use were imposed by its European manufacturer. On January 22, Texas is scheduled to execute Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican citizen who was denied consular access at the time of his arrest, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Objections to the execution have been raised by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and by numerous other governments. On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hall v. Florida, a challenge to Florida's strict procedure for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. The Court previously ruled that intellectually disabled defendants are barred from execution.

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Mexican Foreign Minister Appeals to Texas Officials about Upcoming Execution

Mexican foreign minister José Antonio Meade Kuribreña recently sent letters to Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting that the execution of Edgar Arias Tamayo, a Mexican citizen, be postponed or commuted. Tamayo is currently on death row in Texas and is scheduled for execution for on January 22, 2014. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ordered the U.S. to review the convictions of Tamayo and 50 other Mexican citizens who had been sentenced to death without being notified of their rights under the Vienna Convention. No U.S. court has examined the consular issues in Tamayo's case. Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a letter to Texas officials urging to review Tamayo’s case, and warning that Tamayo's execution could damage U.S.-Mexican relations and hinder the ability of U.S. officials to help American citizens detained abroad.

Secretary of State John Kerry Urges Texas to Reconsider Death Sentence of Mexican Citizen

In a letter to Texas officials, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged a review of the conviction of Edgar Arias Tamayo, a Mexican citizen scheduled to be executed in January 2014. Tamayo was not notified of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty that the U.S. has signed and ratified. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ordered the U.S. to review the convictions of Tamayo and 50 other Mexican citizens who had been sentenced to death without being notified of their rights under the Vienna Convention. No U.S. court has examined the consular issues in Tamayo's case. Kerry's letter warned that executing Tamayo could damage U.S.-Mexican relations and hinder the ability of U.S. officials to help American citizens detained abroad. “Our consular visits help ensure U.S. citizens detained overseas have access to food and appropriate medical care, if needed, as well as access to legal representation,” he said. Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, said, “[T]his issue has become and could continue to be a significant irritant in the relations between our two countries.”

POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: DNA Results Indicate Death Row Inmate May Be Innocent

Lawyers for Clemente Javier Aguirre recently presented the results of DNA testing to a Florida court, casting serious doubt on his guilt.  Aguirre was sentenced to death for the murder of two women in 2006. Although the DNA evidence was available at the time of his trial, Aguirre's trial lawyer never requested testing of the crime-scene evidence. Aguirre's current lawyers said that DNA results from dozens of items did not reveal Aguirre’s blood at the crime scene. Instead, the tests found blood belonging to the daughter of one of the victims, a woman with a history of mental illnessm who may be responsible for the killings. Nina Morrison, a lawyer at the Innocence Project who is assisting with Aguirre’s case said, “It’s the rare case in which you have DNA in multiple places at the scene of a homicide showing the blood of someone other than a convicted person.”

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Information About Foreign Citizens on U.S. Death Rows

New information on foreign nationals facing the death penalty in the U.S. is now available through Mark Warren of Human Rights Research. This DPIC page includes information on 143 foreign citizens from 37 countries on state and federal death rows. California has the most (59 inmates), followed by Texas (24), and Florida (23). Many of these inmates were not informed of their right to contact their country's represenatives under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty the U.S. has ratified and relies upon to protect its citizens when they travel abroad. Thirty-one (31) foreign nationals have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, many of whom were not properly informed of their rights under this treaty. Among countries, Mexico has the largest number (60) of its citizens on death row in the U.S. 

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Reprieve Issues New Report on Foreign Nationals on Death Row In U.S.

A new report by Reprieve, a non-profit organization based in London that provides legal representation and humanitarian assistance to foreign nationals on death row in the U.S., found that many U.S. states were not in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).  This treaty, which the U.S. has signed and ratified, requires participating countries to give arrested individuals from other countries timely notice of their right to contact their consular officials.  In 95% of the U.S. death penalty cases involving foreign nationals reviewed by Reprieve, the requirements of the treaty had not been met. The report stated, “It is widely accepted that foreign nationals are at a significant disadvantage when confronted with the intricacies of the US criminal justice system - particularly when facing capital charges. They are likely to encounter various cultural and linguistic barriers that hamper their ability effectively to engage in the judicial process."  The report noted that none of the 37 death penalty states satisfactorily met their obligations under the VCCR, and even the federal government failed in 75% of their cases for which there was data.  The report concluded with a series of recommendations for other countries to follow to effect full U.S. implementation of this treaty.

INTERNATIONAL: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Calls for Hold on Executions

On August 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the U.S., called for a moratorium on executions in the region and released a report reviewing key areas of concern about the death penalty. The report made a series of recommendations for member States, including:
- States should refrain from any measure that would expand the application of the death penalty or reintroduce it,
- States should take any measures necessary to ensure compliance with the strictest standards of due process in capital cases,
- States should adopt any steps required to ensure that domestic legal standards conform to the heightened level of review applicable in death penalty cases, and
- States should ensure full compliance with decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court, and specifically with decisions concerning individual death penalty cases and precautionary and provisional measures.

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