The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block Texas from executing a Mexican citizen despite a White House-backed appeal that claimed the case could affect other foreigners arrested in the U.S. and Americans in legal trouble abroad.Humberto Leal was executed Thursday evening for the 1994 rape and murder of a San Antonio teenager after his attorneys, supported also by the Mexican government and other diplomats, unsuccessfully sought a stay. They argued that Leal was denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty.
From the death chamber, Leal repeatedly apologized and then shouted “Viva Mexico!” as the lethal drugs began taking effect. The 38-year-old mechanic was sentenced to death for killing 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, whose brutalized nude body was found hours after the two left a street party.
Leal was just a toddler when he and his family moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, but his citizenship became a key element of his attorneys’ appeals. They said police never told him following his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty.
Mexico’s government, President Barack Obama’s administration and others wanted the Supreme Court to stay the execution to allow Congress time to consider legislation that would require court reviews for condemned foreign nationals who aren’t offered the help of their consulates. The high court rejected the request 5-4.
Leal and the United States ask us to stay the execution so that Congress may consider whether to enact legislation implementing the Avena decision. Leal contends that the Due Process Clause prohibits Texas from executing him while such legislation is under consideration. Thisargument is meritless. The Due Process Clause does not prohibit a State from carrying out a lawful judgment in light of unenacted legislation that might someday authorize a collateral attack on that judgment.
Justice Breyer wrote a dissent, which Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor joined:
Thus, on the one hand, international legal obligations, related foreign policy considerations, the prospect of legislation, and the consequent injustice involved should that legislation, coming too late for Leal, help others in identical circumstances all favor granting a stay. And issuing a brief stay until the end of September, when the Court could consider this matter in the ordinary course, would put Congress on clear notice that it must act quickly. On the other hand, the State has an interest in proceeding with an immediate execution. But it is difficult to see how the State’s interest in the immediate execution of an individual convicted of capital murder 16 years ago can outweigh the considerations that support additional delay, perhaps only until the end of the summer.
The majority was unmoved:
The United States and JUSTICE BREYER complain of the grave international consequences that will follow from Leal’s execution. Post, at 4. Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress. We have no authority to stay an execution in light of an “appeal of the President,” post, at 6, presenting free-ranging assertions of foreign policy consequences, when those assertions come unaccompanied by a persuasive legal claim.