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Consulate Call
By Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
August 31, 2001

A man facing sex crime charges in Minneapolis is asking that his confession be tossed out because police failed to inform him of his rights under international law. Under the 1963 Vienna Convention, police must tell arrested foreign nationals that they have a right to have their home consulate notified without delay. The Minneapolis case is significant not only for foreigners in this country but for the four-million U.S. citizens who travel abroad.

Minneapolis Police arrested a Mexican national, Eladio Reyes, for raping a 12-year-old girl last May. Reyes speaks little English and has a fifth grade education. After police apprised him of his Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent, he still confessed.

But police never told Reyes that under the Vienna Convention he had the right to have the Mexican consulate notified of his arrest. His attorney, Phil Leavenworth says Reyes confessed because Reyes feared U.S. authorities. Reyes, like any U S citizen in a foreign jail, Leavenworth says, would've welcomed the chance to talk to a representative of his home country.

"Am I going to look for the local law enforcement authorities for knowledge of my rights or am I going to feel more secure listening to what those rights might be from a state department professional? Certainly it seems to me far more likely that I'm going to be more comfortable listening to what my consulate has to say."

Reyes argues that his confession should be thrown out because police failed to inform him of his consulate right. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Paul Scoggin, who's prosecuted several cases involving foreign nationals and the rules of the Vienna Convention, says the right to communicate with your consulate is important, but there's no reason why police can't first interrogate a suspect.

"This isn't a precondition to taking a statement and Miranda is. There's a definite step by step process. This runs completely parallel to it. But there's no part of the treaty that's been interpreted as it's been a precondition to a statement; it can be taking place at the same time."

Minneapolis Police Spokesman Medaria Arradondo wouldn't comment on the Reyes case because it is still in court. But Arradondo did say department policy requires officers to inform foreign nationals of their consulate rights even though it's not a common occurrence.

"It's very rare that officers come into contact with individuals, particularly in arrest situations were this is an issue. But that's why it's in place in our policy because in the rare instance that it may happen, we, directed by federal laws are required to contact those consulates and embassies."

Reyes' attorney Phil Leavenworth, however, suspects that many police forces are just unaware of the Vienna Convention consular rights.

"I rather suspect that law enforcement across the country, this is kind of new to them. It's not a question of a deliberate conspiracy if you will to say well the heck with these rights, a lot of it is just plain ignorance."

The U.S. has pledged to educate its police departments about consular rights. That pledge is part of the U.S. defense in disputes before the International Court of Justice. In the latest case, the International Court ruled the U.S. breached its legal obligations to Germany when the U.S. failed to inform two Germans charged and convicted of murder of their consular rights. The State of Arizona later executed Karl and Walter LaGrand despite an order from the International Court for a temporary stay of execution.

In June, the International Court ruled that if the U.S. continues to repeat these violations, it will have to do more than apologize - it will have to reconsider convictions and sentences of Germans held in American prisons who were denied their Vienna Convention rights.

Bruno Simma is a professor of International Law at the University of Munich and has been a member of the United Nations International Law Commission since 1996. He was part of the legal team that represented Germany in the LaGrand case before the International Court.

"And I expect Germany to approach the U.S. authorities and say, 'we have so many people in your prisons who have not been informed so what are you going to do? How are you going to live up to that obligation?' So I expect in the U.S. a debate and steps taken to implement that judgment."

Simma says the incentive for the U.S. is simple - if Americans want these same rights available to them when they're arrested abroad, they shouldn't deny foreign nationals those same rights.

In the past three and a half years, the U.S. State Department has trained police forces in 34 American cities about consular notification but Minneapolis and St Paul were not included. After an inquiry from Minnesota Public Radio, a state department spokesman said it would add the Twin Cities to its list.

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