HUMBERTO LEAL JR., who was executed in Texas on Thursday, was one of 40 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States who were not advised of their right to consular access under the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations. The United States, as one of about 160 countries that signed the treaty, is obligated to notify foreign nationals who are arrested in the United States of their right to speak with their embassies. U.S. citizens have the same rights if they are arrested in a country that is also a signatory, which may be particularly important in countries that do not routinely allow defendants access to lawyers.
In an extraordinary move, the Obama administration had asked the Supreme Court to stay Mr. Leal’s execution. The request was intended to give Congress a few months to move on legislation that would have addressed the Vienna Convention breach. That legislation, introduced by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) in June, would have allowed Mr. Leal and the 39 other Mexican nationals a one-time special hearing before a federal court judge to determine whether the failure to allow consular access significantly harmed their ability to defend themselves. The hurdles would have been high, meaning that few, if any, would have been likely to win new trials. Mexico joined in asking the court for a stay, as did former U.S. diplomats from Republican and Democratic administrations.