Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon

Facts of the Case

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.

Question

(1) Does Article 36 of the Vienna Convention create individual, substantive rights? (2) Must evidence obtained after a violation of Article 36 be excluded from trial? (3) May a state refuse to consider a claim of a violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention because of a procedural bar under state law?

CONCLUSION

Unanswered, and no. In a 5-4 decision, the Court affirmed the Oregon Supreme Court and ruled that evidence obtained in violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention need not be excluded from trial. The opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts held that it would be startling if the Vienna Convention required suppression of evidence as a penalty for its violation, since the United States is the only country to have the exclusionary rule for illegaly-obtained evidence. Absent any language in the Convention requiring suppression, the Court could not impose it on states. Furthermore, the Court ruled that an Article 36 violation was not the type of evidence-related violation that normally requires the exclusionary rule. The Court declined to decide the larger issue of whether the Vienna Convention creates individual rights that are enforcable in court. Justice Breyer wrote a dissent, which was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg. The dissenters would have decided that the Convention did create individual rights. Justice Breyer also thought that suppression may sometimes provide an appropriate remedy for Article 36 violations.With respect to state law, the Court ruled that states are allowed to have procedural rules that require courts to deny Article 36 claims if they are not raised at the proper time. The opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the Convention provides that Article 36 shall be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the receiving State. In an adversarial system like that of the United States, the Court ruled, this means that states must be allowed to decide when claims need to be raised. The Justices also ruled that rulings of the International Court of Justice are not binding on U.S. courts. Justice Breyer wrote a dissent, which was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg. The dissent took exception to the absolute language of the majority opinion, arguing that sometimes state procedural default rules must yield to the Convention’s requirement that domestic laws give it full effect.

Case Information

  • Citation: 548 US 331 (2006)
  • Granted: Nov 7, 2005
  • Argued: Mar 29, 2006
  • Decided Jun 28, 2006