Monday, July 28, 2008

Justices Delayed and Justice Denied

I have been following the case of Jose Medellin (Medellin vs. Texas) with some measured interest. Jose Medellin was one of six males, three juveniles and three aged eighteen or older, who gang raped and murdered two teenage girls in Houston in 1993.

He was arrested five days after killing them, and later tried and sentenced. He pled guilty to the crimes. There was absolutely no doubt as to his guilt.

Many are now arguing that since he was a Mexican citizen not given consular access “without delay” he case should be reviewed. It may be more correct to say that his case should be reviewed “again.” He is also an illegal alien but that fact is often absent in reports of him.

I do not know about the fifty other instances of Mexican citizens on death row in the United States. The official records of Medellin’s arrest and the subsequent sentencing of him hold that at no time did he claim to be a citizen of Mexico. While I have been unable to determine the particular law in Houston, it is against police regulations and often even illegal for police to even ask if someone is not a citizen. In the subsequent hearings and five appeals for him, this was considered.

Amnesty International states that Medellin’s upbringing and having lived in “abject poverty” made for circumstantial evidence that would have swayed the outcome of the sentencing.

Has anyone from Amnesty International ever even been to Texas?

There are plenty of poverty stricken places in the world. People there still know that it is wrong to rape and murder someone. They even know it is wrong in places like Somalia and the Congo but they continue to do it anyway.

To borrow a phrase, "In Texas, if you kill someone, we kill you right back."

Jose Medellin once stated that “life means nothing to him.” He was referring to others’ lives of course. His own life means quite a bit to him.

Opponents of capital punishment of the Amnesty International ilk are quick to say that all life is precious. I disagree and would argue that people as far gone as Medellin are tantamount to cancer. They are alive but if left living, they will kill healthy tissue. Comparing the lives of murderers and rapists to their victims is very nearly equivocation and not conducive to a long happy life.

Opponents of capital punishment but otherwise in favor of harsh punishment for murderers would see Medellin busting rocks in the Texas desert for the rest of his life. Since that is as likely to happen as Medellin bringing back Elizabeth Pena and Jennifer Ertman from the dead, we will just have to content ourselves with the knowledge that, once executed, Medellin will never kill anyone again.

The purpose of any justice system should be threefold:
  • Rehabilitation
  • Incapacitation
  • Punishment

The account of the rapes and murders of Medellin’s victims is readily available. It can be found here though. (There are many cases on the page. To find the terrible story of Elizabeth and Jennifer, search for “Efrain Perez”, one of Medellin’s accomplices.)

Medellin states he is now sorry for what he has done. If you like, you can even contact him directly and he will tell you so. I guess that takes care of the rehabilitation.

He has not raped or killed anyone – at least outside of prison – since he was arrested. That takes care in part of the incapacitation portion. The prison system still needs to guarantee that he does not rape or kill for the rest of his life. Since jail breaks do occur, that is a bit harder for the prison system to guarantee.

Finally, while there are several punishments that would be better than executing Medellin, they would definitely be classified as “cruel and unusual” even in my reasoning. They might also be vengeful and they may well be just too. If you have not read the accounts of Elizabeth and Jennifer, and if you still think that there is any other lawful punishment that is suitable, please read their story.

Death is the only just penalty for Jose Medellin.

The International Court of Justice has called for a review of all fifty-one Mexican nationals on death row in the United States. This is little more than a delay tactic.

Many if not all of these cases have been reviewed and appealed and reconsidered numerous times. Not all cases are as “concrete” as Medellin’s but there are some.

Since the Article cited by Amnesty International (Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations) was not automatic, it required Congress to create laws around it. If the treaty was not ratified, then not only is it not automatic, it is non-binding. I have not been able to determine if it was ratified or if it even required ratification.

In banana republics, it would be easy for the International Court of Justice’s fiat to be implemented. A government without separation of powers would be able to quickly respond to such matters.

The United States does have a separation of powers and the states are not compelled to adopt laws that do not exist. That was the determination of the SCOTUS in this matter too.

The President and others are now urging Rick Perry to grant a stay of execution – or, from Amnesty International, a commutation – in order to give more time for the lawyers and courts involved to review his case yet again.

One argument in favor of granting this stay is that other countries will reciprocate in similar circumstances. That is laughable at best. If any American had raped and murder two girls in Mexico, would he even live to trial? How many Americans have been “arrested” in Mexico only be extorted and sent back to the border. Mexico’s hypocrisy is disgusting.

Jose Medellin has a date with the executioner and there is no need to delay it.


Weetabix said...

I usually forget that such evil exists.

Kill him back.

Anonymous said...

Are you forgetting the treaty I mean forget everything else I mean a treaty is a treaty right and it is agreed upon for a reason.

Shawn McManus said...


The treaty in question is the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations from 1963.

Treaties basically come in two flavors: those requiring no additional action by member states and those that do. Those requiring no action are usually things limited in scope. Those that do must have laws adopted by the member states' congresses (or equivalent) before it becomes law.

Although the Supremacy Clause states that U.S. law is the "law of the land", no subsequent laws have been created binding on the individual states of the U.S.

Legally speaking, no law exists within the U.S. to prevent or stay the execution of Medellin. The treaty shares a similar status to that of a bill before it is sent to committee. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court is not a lower court of the ICJ nor is it beholden to the ICJ's judgements. I'm sure that a stay of execution would be granted on behalf of SCOTUS but even they have said it is currently not within their purvue until a law is created to deal with it.

I understand the predicament this places the President and Congress. In fact, IIRC, the U.S. was the first country to appeal to the ICJ. We've essentially been a signatory of a treaty for 45 years without it becoming law. Collectively, it has to be embarrassing for them.

Finally, Mexico did not make an appeal until recently. There may be time for other cases to be reviewed but this leaves little time for the Congress and the President to pass a law requiring Texas to further review Medellin's case (which has already been done five times and with consular access and support).

If any of the other five had been given anything other than their maximum sentences - 40 years for Medellin's brother who was fourteen at the time and death for the other four - then it might be fair to speculate that the outcome would have been different for Jose Medellin had he been given the best of lawyers.

Since that can only be speculation and since Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, cannot break a contradictory law that doesn't exist, there is no legal "road block" preventing Medellin's execution.

Weetabix said...


Did you read the description of the crime in the original post? Did you notice that the criminals bragged about it?