Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon

PETITIONER: Moises Sanchez-Llamas
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 04-10566
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Oregon Supreme Court

CITATION: 548 US 331 (2006)
GRANTED: Nov 07, 2005
ARGUED: Mar 29, 2006
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2006

Gregory G. Garre - argued the cause for Respondent in No. 05-51
Mark T. Stancil - argued the cause for Petitioner in No. 04-01566, on behalf of peptitioner in No. 05-51
Mary H. Williams - argued the cause for Respondent in No. 04-10566
Peter Gartlan - argued the cause for Petitioner in No. 04-01566
William E. Thro - argued the cause for Respondent in No. 05-51

Facts of the case

Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, a treaty to which the U.S. is a party, any person detained in a foreign country has the right to notify the consulate of his home country of his detention.

Moises Sanchez-Llamas, a Mexican national, was arrested for his role in a shootout with the police. He was given a Miranda warning, but not informed of his right under Article 36 to notify his consulate. After Sanchez-Llamas made incriminating statements to the police, he was charged with attempted murder. Sanchez-Llamas moved to dismiss the charge. He argued that he had a right under Article 36 which had been violated, and that his confession should consequently be inadmissible as evidence. The trial court denied the motion. The Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court both affirmed, holding that the Vienna Convention does not create individual rights, but only rights of countries.

Mario Bustillo, a Honduran national, was arrested for murdering a man with a baseball bat. He was not informed that Article 36 would allow him to notify his consulate of his arrest. At trial, Bustillo's counsel brought witnesses testifying that another man had committed the crime. Nevertheless, Bustillo was convicted of first-degree murder, and the conviction was affirmed on appeal. Bustillo then filed a petition for review in state habeas court. He argued for the first time that his conviction should be thrown out because his Article 36 right to notify his consulate had been violated. The state habeas court denied the petition. The court ruled that the petition was "procedurally barred" under state law because he had failed to raise the issue at trial. The Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.


(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?

Media for Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 2006 in Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2006 in Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I have the opinions in 04-10566, Sanchez-Llamas versus Oregon, and 05-51, Bustillo versus Johnson.

These cases concern the application of a particular provision in an international treaty, namely, Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Under Article 36, when a national of one country is detained by authorities in another country, those authorities must notify the detainee’s consular officers if the detainee so requests.

In addition, Article 36 requires authorities to inform a foreign national they detain that he is entitled to request consular notification.

The Convention states that Article 36 rights, “shall be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the receiving state” -- that is, the place where the foreign national is detained -- “subject to the proviso, however, that the said laws and regulations must enable full effect to be given for the purposes for which the rights accorded under this Article are intended.”

These cases concern how to apply Article 36 in the context of two separate criminal proceedings.

The first involves a Mexican national named Moises Sanchez-Llamas.

In December 1999, Sanchez-Llamas was arrested in Oregon after an exchange of gunfire with police.

The police gave him Miranda warnings in both English and Spanish, but never told him that he could ask to have the Mexican consulate informed of his detention.

Sanchez-Llamas was then questioned by police, made several incriminating statements and was charged with attempted murder and other crimes.

Before trial, he asked the court to exclude his statements to the police on the ground that the police had failed to comply with Article 36 of the Vienna Convention.

The trial court denied the request, Sanchez-Llamas was convicted, and his conviction was affirmed by Oregon state courts.

The question is whether the failure to comply with Article 36 requires the suppression of the statements to the police.

We conclude that it does not for several reasons.

First, the Convention itself says nothing about suppression; and it would be strange if it did, since no other country applies a rule like the automatic exclusionary rule applied in our courts.

Sanchez-Llamas cannot point to a single country in the world that has signed the Convention that offers the remedy he says the United States must provide for Article 36 violations.

Sanchez-Llamas nevertheless argues that because the purposes of Article 36 must be given “full effect” in the words of the Treaty, an Article 36 violation requires some judicial remedy, and under American, Law, he argues, that remedy is suppression.

We disagree.

The exclusionary rule, suppression, is not a remedy that we apply lightly.

Because the rule imposes considerable social costs, it should be applied only where its remedial purposes are directly advanced.

We have normally applied the exclusionary rule only for Constitutional violations.

We have ruled, for example, that the Constitution requires the exclusion of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures and requires the exclusion of confessions exacted in violation of due process.

In contrast, the consular-notification right Sanchez-Llamas asserts is at best remotely connected to the gathering of evidence.

Article 36 says nothing about searches or seizures or interrogations.

Indeed, Article 36 does not guarantee defendants any assistance at all.

The provision secures only a right of foreign nationals to have their consulate informed of their arrest or detention.

It does not provide a right to have the consulate intervene or to have law-enforcement authorities cease their investigation pending notice or intervention.

Moreover, the purposes generally served by suppressing evidence are not implicated here.

There is no reason to think that a confession is less reliable because police did not comply with Article 36, nor is there any reason to think police gain an advantage in gathering evidence by ignoring Article 36.

At the same time, the interests Sanchez-Llamas says Article 36 serves are effectively protected by other rights.