Rick Perry vs. Barack Obama on Executing Humberto Leal

Mexico Had a Difficult Case in Arguing that Humberto Leal Deserved More Legal Resources

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Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville (run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice).  Home of Texas' execution chamber.
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Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville (run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice). Home of Texas' execution chamber.

COMMENTARY | According to the Associated Press, Mexican national Humberto Leal, at his July 7, 2011, execution in Huntsville, Texas, accepted responsibility for the brutal rape and murder of which he was convicted. The facts of the case appear to be cut and dried, and there seems little question as to Leal's guilt in the 1994 slaying of a 16-year-old girl. The Obama administration wanted a stay of execution for Leal not based on any question of innocence, but based on the questionable effect the execution could have on Americans traveling or living abroad.

Leal, who came to the United States as a young boy, never became a citizen. After his arrest, some claim, he was never informed by police that, as a Mexican national, he had the right to seek assistance from the Mexican government. Leal's attorneys claimed that, with help from the Mexican consulate, their client could have mounted a proper defense. Due to this lack of a proper defense, they argued, his execution should be stayed.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, deciding 5-4 that the existing law not require there be a review of court cases where foreign nationals did not receive help from their respective consulates. Texas executed Humberto Leal on schedule, with Gov. Rick Perry not swayed by the efforts of Mexican officials and diplomats to stay the lethal injection.

While the Obama administration has a valid point in asserting that America's lack of enforcing consular services for foreign nationals may have negative ramifications for Americans arrested abroad, especially in Mexico, such a point is insufficient to merit a stay of execution for an existing conviction. Texas prosecutors insist that Leal was convicted with strong evidence and his death row appeals were merely desperation.

Texas did the right thing.

It is unlikely that the Mexican government's assertion, according to NPR, that Leal received "lousy counsel" from Texas public defenders and would have instead received "top-flight lawyers and experts" from the Mexican consulate, is accurate. With 51 Mexican nationals in death rows across the United States it is unlikely that Mexico, unable to handle issues of law and justice within its own borders, would spend its limited financial resources attempting to exonerate many individuals who are clearly guilty beyond a shred of doubt.

In respect to the discussion of international law, as mentioned by the Guardian, the Leal case is a noteworthy aberration: Humberto Leal, due to his status as a permanent occupant of the United States, should not have been given an additional avenue of legal support beyond that of the public defender, whose services are the only ones guaranteed by law to American citizens. The fact that Leal was an illegal immigrant, and therefore technically a Mexican national, should not have given him the option of extra legal assistance. He wished to be a permanent occupant of the United States...and should have to accept the guaranteed legal defenses thereof.

Arguing that the violation of international law will harm relations with Mexico is dubious at best. With Mexico's law enforcement, legislative, and judicial apparatuses essentially riddled with incompetence and corruption, it was unlikely that detained American citizens were guaranteed any semblance of adequate legal defense in the first place. By refusing to acquiesce to demands of Mexican diplomats, Texas governor Rick Perry reinforced a message that Mexico should heed. His spokesperson, according to CBS news, echoed the sentiment by affirming the tenacity of Texas justice.

We take things seriously north of the Rio Grande. Mexico: Get your own house in order before you try applying political pressure up here.

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