Law School Case Brief
Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon - 548 U.S. 331, 126 S. Ct. 2669 (2006)
It is beyond dispute that the United States Supreme Court does not hold a supervisory power over the courts of the several states. Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension.
These are two consolidated state criminal cases which involved two arrested foreign nationals . The first case involved defendant Sanchez-Llamas (a Mexican national) who was charged with several offences including attempted aggravated murder. The other involved defendant Bustillo (a Honduran national) who was charged with murder. Both appeared to have been denied with their right to consular access during their interrogation and arrest, as required by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention. For his part, the trial court denied Defendant Sanchez-LLamas, pretrial motion to suppress incriminating statements he made in a police interrogation on grounds including the authorities' asserted failure to comply with Article 36. He was later on convicted and his appeals were likewise unsuccessful. Defendant Bustillo, on the other hand, was convicted, was sentenced to a lengthy prison term, and was unsuccessful on appeal. Thus, he filed a habeas corpus petition in state court, which for the first time, included an argument that the authorities had violated his Article 36 right to consular notification. However, the state habeas corpus court dismissed Bustillo’s Vienna Convention claim as procedurally barred, on the basis that he had failed to raise the issue at trial or on appeal. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Does a violation of Article 36 require suppression of a defendant's statements to police?
With respect to the first case, the state trial court was not required to have suppressed that Sanchez-Llamas’ incriminating statements to the police on the asserted basis that authorities had not told him of his rights under Article 36, because neither the Vienna Convention nor the United States Supreme Court's precedents applying the exclusionary rule supported such suppression. The exclusionary rule cases on which Sanchez-Llamas principally relies are inapplicable because they rest on the Court's supervisory authority over federal courts. Moreover, suppression is not the only means of vindicating Vienna Convention rights. A defendant can raise an Article 36 claim as part of a broader challenge to the voluntariness of his statements to police. If he raises an Article 36 violation at trial, a court can make appropriate accommodations to ensure that the defendant secures, to the extent possible, the benefits of consular assistance. Of course, diplomatic avenues--the primary means of enforcing the Convention--also remain open.
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