Friday, March 18, 2005

Texas should strengthen Vienna protections

Despite President Bush's recent pullout from the International Criminal Court, American state courts remain fully bound by the Vienna Convention, the State Department said in a recent explanatory statement. I'm glad somebody's out there explaining this, because I didn't fully understand what happened.

Bottom line: foreign nationals can still request notification of their country's consular officials when they're accused of a crime.

Though Alberto Gonzalez has (wrongfully) disputed the point, the State Department says all states including Texas are obligated to notify foreign governments whenever their citizens are arrested. Foreign nationals have the right to request a meeting with consular officials if they're arrested. In some instances, the state is required to notify the foreign government. In all events, consular officials must be allowed to meet with their detained citizens. (For detailed information on the notice process, see here.)

Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis has a great bill up Tuesday (SB 603) in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that would strengthen Vienna Convention requirements in Texas to require magistrates to notify consular officials if there is reason to believe the defendant is either from Canada or Mexico. The bill also requires penal institutions to facilitate inmates' communication with the consulate.

I've got a bit of a personal dog in this fight: I've traveled quite a bit in Mexico with naught but broken Espa
ñol turista, and if I were busted by the local policia down there in some cockamamy snafu, I'd be trying to fumble through the justice system with lingo better suited for finding hotels, beaches, museums and restaurants. At that unhappy moment, I'd sure appreciate the judge making sure the US consulate was notified regardless, in case I was unable to make myself understood independently. If we want American citizens to be treated that way, it sure seems smart to return the favor. I'd hate to have a Mexican judge thinking in the back of his head, "Well, those Texan gringos didn't give my cousin any breaks, so screw you."

I'm glad Bush didn't completely roll back these important protections, and I hope the Senate will enhance them with Sen. Ellis' bill.

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