Given the current political climate, protecting the rights of non-citizen criminal defendants is certainly not a popular activity. However, and as many judges and elected representatives have repeatedly stated, our judicial system (federal and state) is supposed to be a model of fairness for other countries, particularly those where there are no meaningful due process rights or protections. Our tradition provides that any criminal defendant – even one who is in the United States illegally – is still entitled to due process.
To help ensure this, there is a procedure which really should be utilized in most, if not all, criminal cases where the defendant is not a US citizen. International treaties provide that a non-citizen criminal defendant must be allowed to speak to a representative of his country’s consulate to seek whatever assistance the consulate can offer. This was a major issue in the case of Ruben Cardenas, who was executed last night in Texas.
Cardenas was arrested over 20 years ago for the murder of his teenage cousin. Following hours of questioning by law enforcement, he admitted to sneaking into his cousin’s through a window. He also confessed to kidnapping, raping and killing her, and leaving her body near a canal. He was not given an attorney until 11 days after his arrest, and his defense counsel claimed that his confession was coerced and other evidence in the case was problematic for different reasons. Representatives of the Mexican government and the United Nations all tried to stop the execution, providing this case with international visibility. The execution was carried out despite numerous appeals that raised the deprivation of consular rights, as well as other issues.