Sneak Preview: State v. Gutierrez: International Law Gets Its Day in [State] Court

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Carlos Gutierrez (Gutierrez) spent a year abusing Mailin Stafford (Mailin), his three-year-old stepdaughter, for sucking on her thumbs.[1] He subjected her to frequent beatings and spankings, forced her to eat chili peppers and Tabasco sauce and threw her into freezing cold showers until she began to drown or turn blue.[2] On June 15, 2004, Gutierrez punched her in the stomach one last time before she crawled onto his lap and died.[3] A three-judge panel sentenced Gutierrez to death.[4]

On his first appeal, Gutierrez’s death sentence was affirmed.[5] He then filed a second appeal, seeking a post-conviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the Second Judicial District Court of Nevada dismissed on procedural grounds.[6] On appeal, Gutierrez argued that he suffered actual prejudice because the United States failed to inform him of his right to consular assistance, which was in violation of Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention).[7] Mexico had previously filed suit against the United States in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for denying Carlos Avena Guillen and numerous other Mexican nationals their right to consular access under the Vienna Convention.[8] In Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Avena), the ICJ found the United States had violated its international legal obligations under the Vienna Convention by failing to notify the Mexican nationals of their consular rights.[9] The ICJ directed the United States to reassess the convictions of Avena and the other Mexican nationals.[10]

After Avena, the United States Supreme Court in Medell ín v. Texas[11] held state courts were not required to enforce the ICJ decision[12] and that Avena did not preempt state procedural rules that barred prisoners from raising Vienna Convention claims in successive habeas corpus petitions.[13] However, in his concurrence, Justice Stevens noted the Court’s decision did not prohibit states from voluntarily choosing to comply with the foreign court’s decision.[14]

On September 19, 2012, the Supreme Court of Nevada became only the second court in the United States to reconsider a conviction based on the ICJ’s decision in Avena.[15] Nevada’s decision to uphold the ICJ’s mandate in its courts provides important protection for foreign nationals seeking review of their convictions based on Vienna Convention violations. The decision shows a much-needed trend towards greater international cooperation by the United States.[16] Part II of the Note will explore the facts and holding of the Nevada Supreme Court in Gutierrez v. Nevada. Part III will examine the Vienna Convention, the Avena decision, and previous decisions in applying the procedural rights of the Vienna Convention to state courts. Part IV will analyze the implications of Gutierrez on the future of international legal rights in the state court system. Part V will conclude by urging attorneys to continue pursuing Vienna Convention obligations as a procedural right to which defendants are entitled.

[1] See Gutierrez v. State, 112 Nev. 788, 790, 920 P.2d 987, 988 (1996).

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 791, 920 P.2d at 989.

[4] Id. at 789, 920 P.2d at 988.

[5] Id.

[6] Gutierrez v. State, No. 53506, 2012 WL 4355518 (Nev. Sept. 19, 2012).

[7] Id. at 2.

[8] See Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (U.S. v. Mex.), 2004 I.C.J. 128 (Mar. 31).

[9] Id. at 71.

[10] Emily Culp, A Father Waits: Medellín v. Texas and the Application of World Court Decisions on U.S. Domestic Law, 35 N.C. J. Int’l L. & Com. Reg. 233, 240 (2009).

[11] Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008).

[12] See Culp, supra note [13] Sandra Babcock, Nevada’s Supreme Court Upholds ICJ Ruling on Consular Rights of Mexicans, Death Penalty Worldwide (Sept. 25, 2012, 5:04 AM),

[14] Id. In furtherance of the United States’ disregard for the Avena decision, Texas executed Umberto Leal Garcia in 2011, in violation of the ICJ mandate. Id.

[15] Id.

[16] See generally Gutierrez v. State, No. 53506, 2012 WL 4355518 (Nev. Sept. 19, 2012) (holding that the defendant suffered actual prejudice due to the lack of consular assistance resulting from alleged lack of proper notice to consular officials).

Posted by Debolina Das on Mon. November 4, 2013 8:00 AM
Categories: Conflict of Laws, International Human Rights

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