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Andrea Lyon

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It's a Matter of Respect

Posted: 06/30/11 06:30 PM ET

In just a few days, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute a Mexican citizen. His name is Humberto Leal Garcia. Mr. Leal is a Mexican national who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death without ever being informed that he had the right to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate B assistance that in his case likely would have made the difference between life and death. Even though virtually everyone is in agreement that this is a violation of international law, and despite the fact that if the state of Texas executes Mr. Leal it will be dangerous for American citizens, Texas appears indifferent and intends, at least as of this writing, to proceed. If we don't respect international law, how can we ask other countries to do so when it is an American citizen who is danger? If you want respect, you have to behave with respect.

If the Mexican consulate had been informed of Mr. Leal's arrest, as posted on Mr. Leal's supporter's website:

...it would have retained highly qualified and experienced legal counsel. Instead he was represented by a court-appointed lawyer who has been suspended or reprimanded on multiple occasions for ethical violations. Mr. Leal's trial lawyers failed to challenge the junk science that the prosecution relied on to obtain a conviction, and they failed to tell the jury about critical facts that could have spared his life -- including evidence that he was raped by his parish priest in San Antonio. Mr. Leal is now seeking modern DNA testing to show that he is innocent of the crime. With consular assistance, Mr. Leal would likely never have been convicted, let alone sentenced to death.

American students, tourists, members of our military, businesspeople and aid workers who travel abroad depend on the vital lifeline of consular access. Those who have been wrongly detained overseas often say that the assistance of the consulate is more important than the advice of a foreign lawyer. This right is protected by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations which is one of the most widely ratified treaties in the world. The International Court of Justice held that Mr. Leal was entitled to a hearing on the consular rights violation in his case. President Bush, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Obama Administration have all acknowledged that the United States is obligated to comply with International Court of Justice's decision. Congress has now introduced legislation that would require implementation of the decisions of International Court of Justice. The bill before Congress has the support of the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State. In other words everyone knows that we need to respect the treaties we sign or else how can we ask other countries to listen to us?

But will this change law in the law be in time to prevent this wrongful execution? No it will not, unless a court acts quickly or Texas Governor Rick Perry grants a stay of execution.

One of our sources of pride in our country is that we are a nation of laws. We often hear our teachers and our leaders say we have the best legal system in the world. We hold our system up as a beacon to other nascent democracies. We point our fingers at repressive legal systems like Iran or China which jail and even execute people with alarming rapidity and virtually no checks or balances on that power. One of the lessons I try to teach my student in the death penalty clinic I run at DePaul University College of Law is that if we point our fingers at the prosecution or the police for their misdeeds, our hands must be clean.

The state of Texas should not execute Mr. Leal. Its hands would be unclean after such an action and would put Americans in danger all over the world. If we want respect for the law we must have respect for the as well.