The VCCR After Medellin

by Roger Alford

The Fifth Circuit last week rendered a decision in Gomez v. Quarterman rejecting a claim that a forced confession should be thrown out because the defendant’s VCCR rights were violated. This decision gives you a sense of where we are post-Medellin, with “no reasonable debate” about the status of the Vienna Convention as a vehicle to vindicate individual rights.

With this Supreme Court guidance in mind, we deny a COA in regard to the asserted violations of the Vienna Convention. No reasonable jurist could conclude, in light of the explicit pronouncements in Medellin and Sanchez-Llamas, that Gomez’s constitutional rights were violated when the Texas court refused to suppress his confession. Sanchez-Llamas establishes the general proposition that violations of the Vienna Convention do not require the suppression of evidence, and Medellin reinforces Sanchez-Llamas by holding that the general proposition applies even in the face of a contrary ICJ decision and presidential order.

These precedents apply with full force to Gomez. As in Sanchez-Llamas, he argues that his confession should have been suppressed, notwithstanding appropriately-given Miranda warnings, because he confessed without first being informed of his rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention. The law is straightforward: “[S]uppression is not an appropriate remedy for a violation of Article 36 ….” Sanchez-Llamas, 126 S.Ct. at 2674.

Moreover, as in Medellin, Gomez argues that the ICJ’s decision in Avena, especially when coupled with the President’s Memorandum, requires that the evidence be suppressed. The Court, however, has closed that door as well: “[T]he Avena judgment is not automatically binding domestic law,” Medellin, 128 S.Ct. at 1357, and the President’s Memorandum exceeded his constitutional powers, id. at 1367-72. Though we “in no way disparage[ ] the importance of the Vienna Convention,” Sanchez-Llamas, 126 S.Ct. at 2687, there is no reasonable debate as to the critical legal infirmities of Gomez’s application.

2 Responses

  1. There’s only the little thing that the ICJ itself NEVER said that suppression was a required remedy for an Art. 36 VCCR violation. The only thing that it required of the United States was for it to “provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence, so as to allow full weight to be given to the violation of the rights set forth in the Convention.” For this question at least, Medellin to me seems to be completely immaterial.

  2. Wasn’t the “reasonable debate” line about what states might do? This was a habeas case; there’s no way such a claim could meet the AEDPA standard of review given the SC cases the opinion cites.

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