On December 20, 2005, CJA submitted an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the consolidated cases, Sanchez-Llamas v.  Oregon and Bustillo v. Johnson.  CJA board member William Aceves authored the brief and a number of human rights organizations and legal groups signed and supported it.

Background

When Mexican national Moises Sanchez-Llamas was arrested for murder in Oregon, the police read him his Miranda rights, but failed to inform him of his right to notify the Mexican consulate under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. At trial, Mr. Sanchez-Llamas moved to suppress evidence on the grounds that the authorities had violated his right to consular access. The trial court denied his motion and the Oregon appellate and supreme courts affirmed the denial, holding that the Vienna Convention creates rights for countries and not for individuals. Mr. Sanchez-Llamas petitioned the Supreme Court for resolution of the issues.

 U.S. Supreme Court

The questions before the court were:

  1. Does Article 36 of the Vienna Convention create individual rights?
  2. Must evidence obtained after a violation of Article 36 be suppressed?
  3. May a procedural bar under state law prevent a state court from considering a claim of an Article 36 violation?

In our amicus brief, we argued that it is in the national interest of the United States to comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention. The Vienna Convention not only protects vulnerable migrants,  but also U.S. citizens abroad, including tourists, business travelers, and military personnel.  Failure to adhere to the obligations set forth in the Vienna Convention would undermine consular assistance in the United States run the risk of replicating violations abroad.

Opinion

The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ dismissals. On the issue of evidence, the Court held that the Vienna Convention could not possibly require the suppression of evidence, given that the United States is the only signatory party to have the “exclusionary rule” for illegally obtained evidence.

The Court did not address the question of whether the Vienna Convention creates individual rights.

More information is available here.

Legal Documents

CJA Amicus Brief
29 Jul 03 Amicus Brief: Bar Associations, Human Rights Organizations, and Other Legal Groups
Related Documents
06 Oct 04 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion by Chief Justice Roberts