Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"No Hablo Ingles"

Contreras v. State,

A Mexican citizen was convicted in Denton County for intoxication assault and failure to stop and render aid.  On appeal, he lodged a Miranda-esque complaint, contending that the trial court erred by not suppressing statements he made after being arrested but before being informed of his rights as a Mexican citizen to contact the Mexican consulate.  After contacting officials in Arizona for advice on immigrataion policy, the 11th District Court of Appeals (Eastland) rejected the Appellant's argument and affirmed the conviction.  (Of course, I am only kidding about the Arizona thing, but the court really did affirm the conviction.)
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations grants foreign nationals who have been arrested, imprisoned, or taken into custody the right to contact their consulate and requires the arresting government authorities to inform the individual of this right “without delay.”
Rocha v. State, 16 S.W.3d 1, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000).  Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Vienna Convention does not control Texas or national law (Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008)), the Appellant asserts that he was denied procedural due process and as a result, any statements he made prior to being afforded his right to contact his consulate should be suppressed.

The 11th Court, however, refused to recognize any Due Process right in this instance, stating:
...because the Vienna Convention was drafted to govern relations between sovereign nations and foreign consular officials, Sierra v. State, 218 S.W.3d 85, 86-87 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007), we do not believe that its language creates a substantive right sufficient to implicate the constitutionally required procedures police officers must follow before interrogating a foreign national.  Moreover, courts have not read the treaty to require notification before instituting any police interrogation, but only within three working days of the arrest. See Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331, 362 (2006) (Ginsburg, J., concurring in judgment) (citing Case Concerning Avena and other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I.C.J. 12, 52 ¶ 97 (Judgment of Mar. 31)).  Thus, even if we are in error and the Vienna Convention does create a benefit enforceable under the Due Process Clause, we do not believe that this required the police to inform Contreras of the right to contact his consulate before beginning a custodial interrogation.
Just in case the court misinterpreted the law regarding foreign relations, the Court further explained that:
Even if we are in error, Contreras is not entitled to the suppression of any evidence. The Supreme Court has held that suppression under the federal exclusionary rule is not an appropriate remedy for a violation of the Vienna Convention.  Sanchez-Llamas, 548 U.S. at 350. In Rocha, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the exclusionary rule under TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN. art. 38.23 (Vernon 2005) does not provide a remedy for violations of treaties, including the Vienna Convention.  Rocha, 16 S.W.3d at 18-19. The trial court, therefore, did not err in admitting Contreras’s statements.
So the takeway from this case is that  (in Texas) foreign nationals are not afforded any enhanced procedural due process right to contact their consulate prior to being questioned by police officers.  Of course, Miranda would still apply (perhaps, even in Arizona), but there is no further right created by the Vienna Convention and evidence will not be suppressed for failure to follow its mandates.