Bush Overruled in Death Penalty Dispute

Court says Bush overstepped authority by intervening in Mexican national's case.

ByABC News
March 25, 2008, 11:05 AM

March 25, 2008— -- In a defeat for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 Tuesday that President George W. Bush does not have the authority to force a state to reconsider a death penalty case, even if the conviction in that case violates an international court's ruling.

Jose Medellin, a Mexican national, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for raping and killing two teenage girls in Houston.

However, the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands ruled that his conviction was in violation of international treaties, which ordered that the home country of any defendant had to be notified upon the arrest of a foreign national.

Article 36 of the Vienna Convention requires authorities to notify "without delay" a detained foreign national of his right to request assistance from the consul of his own state. At the time of Medellin's arrest, the United States was a signatory to the treaty, but Mexico was never notified of his arrest.

Medellin, a Mexican citizen who had lived in the United States most of his life, claimed that had he known that he could inform Mexican consular officers of his detention they could have potentially assisted him by providing funding for experts or investigators or ensuring that he was represented by a competent defense counsel. Currently, there are 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in America.

Taking the side of Medellin, Bush had issued a statement admitting that the United States had breached the applicable article of the Vienna Convention, and determined that state courts had to abide by the treaty. This meant they had to then review and reconsider the sentences and convictions of the death row inmates.

Bush claimed that his determination to have the states reconsider the cases came from his "authorized power to effectuate" treaty obligations.

The Bush administration ordered the Texas state court to reopen Medellin's case in order to comply with the treaty.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court rebuked the President.