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LaGrand Case (Germany v. United States)

    Brief Fact Summary. A suit against the United States (D) was filed by Germany (P) in the International Court of Justice, claiming the U.S. law enforcement agent failed to advice aliens upon their arrests of their rights under the Vienna Convention.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state that breaches its obligations to another under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform an arrested alien of the right to consular notification and to provide judicial review of the alien’s conviction and sentence also violate individual rights held by the alien under international law.

    Facts. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Article 36(1)(b), provides that a state trying an alien in a death sentence case must inform the alien of his rights to have his consular authorities informed of the arrest. A suit which claimed the United States law enforcement personnel f ailed to advice aliens upon their arrest of their rights was filed by Paraguay (P), Germany (P) and Mexico (P) at the international Court of Justice. The plaintiffs also claimed that as a remedy for violation of the Vienna Convention, state courts should review and reconsider the death sentences to determine if the lack of consular access prejudiced the aliens. The German’s (P) case involved LaGrand and his brother who were executed before the matter came to the I.C.J. the Court found that the U.S. (D) had breached its obligations to Germany (P) under the Vienna Convention by not giving notice about LaGrand and his brother of right to consular notification, and by failing to provide judicial review of the conviction and sentence.

    Issue. Does a state which breaches its obligations to another under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform an arrested alien of the right to consular notification and to provide judicial review of the alien’s conviction and sentence also violate individual rights held by the alien under international law?

    Held. Yes. A state that breaches its obligations to another under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform an arrested alien of the right to consular notification and to provide judicial review of the alien’s conviction and sentence also violate individual rights held by the alien under international law. The meaning adduced to the phrase “authorities shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under this subparagraph” of Article 36 suggests that the rights to be informed of their rights under the Convention is an individual right of every national of a state that is party to the Convention.

    Discussion. The Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull insisted that the executions of the LeGrand brothers would be carried out despite the diplomatic efforts made by the German Ambassador and German Members of Parliament and the recommendation of the Arizona’s clemency board. On February 24, 1999, Karl LaGrand was executed by lethal injection and Walter LaGrand was executed March 3, 1999 by gas chamber. Compare this case to a ruling by the I.C.J. involving Mexican nationals, Avena and other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States), 2004 I.C.J. 12 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to give effect to the I.C.J.’s Avena decision in Medelin v. Texas 128 S. Ct. 1346 (2008)


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