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U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Exclude Statements of Foreign Nationals where Vienna Convention is Violated

Jack Ryan

Under Article 36 (1) (b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a person who is detained by a foreign country has the right to request that the consular post of his country be notified. The article further provides that a person from another country who is detained must be informed of these rights.

The impact of Article 36 on local law enforcement operations was examined by the United Supreme Court as the result of two criminal prosecutions of individuals which involved interrogations that led to admissions in both cases.

Moises Sanchez-Llamas was involved in an exchange of gunfire with police in Oregon and was arrested. Following his arrest he made incriminating statements to investigators. Sanchez-Llamas, a Mexican national sought to have these statements suppressed arguing that under Article 36 (1) (b) of the Vienna Convention required that he be informed of his right to have the Mexican Consulate notified before he was interrogated.

Mario Bustillo, a Honduran national was arrested in Virginia and charged with murder. While in custody, Bustillo made statements implicating himself in the crime. Bustillo also sought to have his statements suppressed arguing that he was not informed of his right to have the Honduran Consulate notified prior to his interrogation.

At the outset, the Court assumed without deciding that the Vienna Convention created a judicially enforceable remedy for persons such as Bustillo and Sanchez-Llamas. The Court then made several observations. First the Court noted that the provision of the Vienna Convention only provides for the notification of the Consulate that an arrest and detention has occurred, not that the investigation be halted. Thus, even if the Consulate was notified the arrested party could still be interrogated and he or she would not have the right to representation by consular officials during such interrogation. Second, the Court observed that the provision did not expressly provide for any remedy for violations. Finally, the Court explained that the Vienna Convention called upon the domestic law of the detaining country to deal with violations.

Having determined that domestic law should apply, the Court reviewed the exclusionary rule and its application to the type of statements taken in this case. The Court noted that the statements were not taken in violation of the 5th Amendment but rather, if anything, violated the Vienna Convention. The Court concluded that excluding the statements would be an inappropriate remedy. As such the statements are allowed as evidence.

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