Medellin v. Texas
In Medellin v. Texas, 76 U.S.L.W. 4143 (Mar. 28, 2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that neither a decision by the International Court of Justice nor a memorandum issued by President George W. Bush constitutes directly enforceable federal law that preempts state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions.
John T. Parry of the Texas Law Review notes that Medellin is the most significant case involving international treaties in a century.
Specifically, Petitioner Jose Ernesto Medellin, an illegal alien, was a member of the "Black and Whites" gang who was convicted of the rape and brutal murder of 14-year-old Jennifer Ertman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena while they were walking home.
Medellin was given the Miranda warning, and then confessed to the crime. But he was not advised of a right to consult with the Mexican consulate prior to being interrogated by police. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention or Convention), Apr. 24, 1963,  21 U.S. T. 77, T. I. A. S. No. 6820, and the Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes to the Vienna Convention (Optional Protocol or Protocol), Apr. 24, 1963,  21 U.S. T. 325, T. I. A. S. No. 6820, which were ratified by United States Senate in 1969, if a person detained by a foreign country "so requests, the competent authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State" of such detention, and "inform the [detainee] of his righ[t]" to request assistance from the consul of his own state. Art. 36(1)(b), id., at 101. Medellin petitioned the Federal District Court of Southern Texas.
The District Court denied relief, holding that Medellín’s Vienna Convention claim was procedurally defaulted [for failure to timely raise it] and that Medellín had failed to show prejudice arising from the Vienna Convention violation..
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in the Hague, is a tribunal established pursuant to the United Nations Charter to adjudicate disputes between member states. In the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I. C. J. 12 (Judgment of Mar. 31) (Avena), that tribunal considered a claim brought by Mexico against the United States. The ICJ held that, based on violations of the Vienna Convention, 51 named Mexican nationals were entitled to review and reconsideration of their state-court convictions and sentences in the United States. This was so regardless of any forfeiture of the right to raise Vienna Convention claims because of a failure to comply with generally applicable state rules governing challenges to criminal convictions.
The Court held the Vienna Convention treaty was not "self-executing" and thus does not preempt domestic criminal law. Medellin therefore did not have a right under the treaty and his death penalty was affirmed.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the 6-3 court. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a concurrence in which he noted that the Law of the Sea Treaty was not governed by this decision because it does have a self-executing proceeding:
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Annex VI, Art. 39, Dec. 10, 1982, S. Treaty Doc. No. 103-39, 1833 U. N. T. S. 570 ("[D]ecisions of the [Seabed Disputes] Chamber shall be enforceable in the territories of the States Parties in the same manner as judgments or orders of the highest court of the State Party in whose territory the enforcement is sought").
Justice Stevens also noted that "Congress has passed implementing legislation to ensure the enforcement of other international judgments, even when the operative treaty provisions use far more mandatory language than 'undertakes to comply.'"
- Is a state court obligated to obey a memo from the U.S. President directing it to follow an International Court of Justice ruling on the rights of foreign nationals arrested and prosecuted in the United States?
Then Solicitor General of Texas Ted Cruz said that: "This case raised foundational structural issues concerning the Constitution - in particular, the separation of powers, and restraints on unchecked executive authority." He concluded that "The question was whether the president of the United States could order a state court to obey the World Court. The Supreme Court agreed with Texas."
- Rewriting the Roberts Court's Law of Treaties, (PDF)
- Medellin v. Texas, (PDF)
- Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984. Certiorari granted April 30, 2007. Ruling below: 206 S.W.3d. 584 (Tex.Crim.App. 2006).
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