Sandra Babcock Zach Bucek TO: What are some specific issues that confront Mexican nationals on death row? SB: With U.S. inmates there may be a wealth of school records and child protection services records to help build up a better picture of a defendant. With Mexican nationals there are no records. Most of our clients grew up in very rural communities. Many have no more than a primary school education. Some of them have finished the second grade, maybe the third grade. By and large the schools they go to are very poor and they don’t keep records. It’s rare to find records. So what we’ve found in a lot of cases is that attorneys representing Mexican nationals don’t visit Mexico to do the oral histories necessary to gain a sense of a person’s background. Attorneys have to find family members, they have to find teachers, they have to talk to the extended family to get a full picture. That’s one example of what the program does.We go to Mexico and do research. It’s a very challenging task. TO: Capital punishment in Texas is overwhelming. There are many capital cases and people on death row. What’s your view of Texas’ capital punishment system? SB: The thing that happens in this state is that people have become so inured to all the arguments that lawyers make time and again. They’re good arguments about the abysmal representation that the guys on death row are getting. Lawyers are blowing critical deadlines all the time. We have a case right now where the lawyer failed to file a notice of appeal. The effect of that is to waive his client’s right to appeal his case to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court. The lawyer has sacrificed at least two years of his client’s life; he did that unilaterally and never discussed it with his client. In fact, his client has never met his lawyer. It’s just one example, but you can go on and on and on. The cases of Mexican nationals are no different from everybody else. They are more isolated, they know less about the legal system, so in that sense they are different, but the quality of legal representation is bad across the board. People talk about that all the time but it gets little media play and nobody does anything about it. It amazes me that a death penalty state can be so blase about these really serious flaws in the system. I don’t support the death penalty, but if I did then the morally appropriate stance to take would be to make sure that it is fairly applied. Is that so hard? Is that a controversial statement? It seems to me that it’s not. TO: Didn’t the state used to provide similar assistance to the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program? Opponents have said that it has become more difficult to apply the death penalty fairly ever since Congress defunded the state death penalty resource centers. SB: Mexico is propping up the criminal justice system of Texas and other states. I think it’s shamefiil. Mexico is a developing country. There’s extreme poverty and here we have the wealthiest country in the world that cannot provide adequate resources and competent legal counsel to people who are facing the loss of their lives. TO: How did you get involved in using international law as part of a capital appeals strategy? SB: It goes back a while. I represented a Canadian called Stan Faulder. He was the first client I represented when I finished law school. He had been on death row for 15 years at the time that I started representing him.When I went to see him I con tacted the Canadian Consulate to let them know he was there. They had no idea he had been on death row for fifteen years.The thing that made his case more dramatic was that his family had no idea he was on death row either. He’d had no contact with anybody from his family since his arrest. He’d been very isolated. And the Canadian Consulate told me about the treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, so I decided to raise that as an issue. I don’t think that issue had been raised before; certainly not in a capital continued on page 20 10/25/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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