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US Supreme Court Hears Case of Mexican National on Death Row in Texas

Is a Mexican national convicted of murder in the United States entitled to a new hearing after being denied access to Mexican officials at the time of his arrest? That question was put before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.

The Supreme Court heard arguments from attorneys representing the state of Texas, as well as an attorney for Jose Medellin, a Mexican gang member sentenced to death for murdering two adolescent girls in Houston in 1993.

At issue is the responsibility of authorities in the United States to inform foreign nationals of their right to meet with consular officials of their home country when they are arrested. The 1963 Vienna Convention, which the United States ratified in 1969, stipulates that everyone is entitled to such consultations when detained in a foreign land.

Jose Medellin
Jose Medellin is one of 51 Mexican death-row inmates in the United States who were not informed of this right. In Mr. Medellin's case, he learned he was entitled to consult with Mexican officials only after a Texas court sentenced him to death.

Last year, the International Court of Justice in The Hague found that the United States violated the rights of the 51 inmates and ordered a review of their cases.

Arturo Dager, chief legal counsel to Mexico's foreign ministry, came to Washington to observe the Supreme Court proceedings and spoke with VOA shortly afterward.

"What we would like to see and what we are actually expecting is a review and a reconsideration as the International Court of Justice directed," he said. "If the reviewing courts find that there was some prejudice because of the lack of notification, then they will have to decide whether to change the death penalty sentence."

The Bush administration has endorsed the International Court's ruling, and called for a review of the 51 death row cases.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, attorneys for the state of Texas argued that, because Jose Medellin raised no objections during his trial, he has no constitutional basis to contest his conviction or sentencing.

A decision by the Supreme Court is expected by June.