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Congressional Action May Come Too Late to Stop Texas Execution

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 By Peter MalofContact
June 16, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Legislation introduced this week in the U.S. Senate gives hope to some foreigners on death row in U.S. prisons - but it may come too late for Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican scheduled for execution next month in Texas.

The Consular Notification Compliance Act would ensure that courts follow an international law that says people arrested on foreign soil are entitled to assistance from their home countries. Leal's lawyers are filing motions today in federal court, hoping to delay his execution so that he may benefit from the legislation if and when it becomes law.

Christopher Durocher, government-affairs counsel at The Constitution Project, supports the measure, adding that consular access is critical if justice is to prevail for foreign nationals.

"When you're brought into a foreign criminal-justice system, your lack of understanding about how that system works - to navigate that system effectively - can really have a negative impact on your ability to defend yourself."

Durocher says he's fearful that if the United States doesn't uphold its treaty obligations, other countries will view consular access for Americans as optional. More than 6,600 U.S. citizens were arrested abroad last year.

Leal is a perfect example of someone whose conviction deserves review, Durocher says, because his lack of consular access clearly impacted his ability to receive a fair trial. His execution, Durocher adds, would not come as welcome news to the 172 other signatories of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

"The United States criminal justice system is upheld as sort of a model of fairness and justice, a truth-seeking system. Our refusal to honor consular access would really reflect poorly in the international community."

If federal courts fail to block Leal's execution, Durocher says, Gov. Rick Perry should grant him a reprieve - at least until the Consular Notification Compliance Act goes into effect. Leal has always maintained he's innocent of the rape and murder of a Texas teen-ager in 1994. His attorneys say he had shoddy representation, which failed to produce a variety of mitigating facts and evidence.

More information on the legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is online at humbertoleal.org. The text of the bill is at leahy.senate.gov.

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