The Fierro Case: Latest Developments

International Court of Justice again orders "precautionary measures" to protect César Fierro's life

On July 16, 2008, the International Court of Justice responded to Mexico's emergency request for an interpretation of the Avena Judgment on consular rights and remedies by issuing the following order:

"The United States of America shall take all measures necessary to ensure that Messrs. José Ernesto Medellín Rojas, César Roberto Fierro Reyna, Rubén Ramírez Cárdenas, Humberto Leal García, and Roberto Moreno Ramos are not executed pending judgment on the Request for interpretation submitted by the United Mexican States, unless and until these five Mexican nationals receive review and reconsideration consistent with paragraphs 138 to 141 of the Court’s Judgment delivered on 31 March 2004 in the case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America)."   To read the full text of the Court's order, click here

Congressional legislation would provide access to legal remedy for consular treaty violation in Fierro case

On July 14, 2008, legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to implement the United States' binding obligations under the International Court of Justice decision in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals.  The "Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008" (H.R. 6481) is intended to “create a civil action to provide judicial remedies to carry out certain treaty obligations of the United States under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”  Under its provisions, individuals such as Mr. Fierro would have access to "civil remedies" in the domestic courts for violations of their consular rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, including "the vitiation of the conviction or sentence where appropriate."  The  bill has now been sent to the House Judiciary Committee for review.  To view the text of the bill, click here.

Fifth Circuit denies Fierro's request for continuing a stay of the proceedings in his case

On June 2, 2008, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Mr. Fierro's request for an extension of the stay of proceedings granted by the Court in 2007 so that the U.S. Supreme Court could consider the claim that the International Court of Justice decision in Avena is enforceable in the domestic courts.  Noting that the Supreme Court had "decided adversely to Fierro the issues that he seeks permission to raise in a successive federal habeas petition,"  the Court  concluded that there was no further basis for continuing the stay.

Supreme Court decides that the Avena decision is not enforceable in the domestic courts

On March 25, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Medellin v. Texas that the ICJ decision in Avena was not directly enforceable domestic federal law that preempted state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions, and that the directive from President Bush did not independently require states to provide reconsideration and review of the claims of the Mexican citizens involved in the Avena case.  Although unanimously agreeing that Avena is binding on the United States under international law and that there are "plainly compelling" reasons for complying with its requirements, the Court concluded that the responsibility for implementing Avena rests with the U.S. Congress.

Texas Lawyer article details the Fierro Case

On May 2, 2005, Texas Lawyer magazine published an article entitled "Stuck in Habeas Hell: Bush Breathes New Life Into Texas Death-Row Inmate's Case."  Written by Prof. David Dow, one of César Fierro's attorneys, the article describes the latest developments in the case--along with the shocking  disintegration in César's mental health in recent years. To read the full article, click here.

President Bush determines that Texas courts must review the Fierro Case

On February 28, 2005, President Bush determined that state courts are required to provide judicial review of the consular rights violations in the cases of 51 death-sentenced Mexican nationals, including the Fierro case. The President's determination reads:

The White House
February 28 [2005]


SUBJECT:  Compliance With the International Court of Justice in Avena

The United States is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (the "Convention") and the Convention's Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (Optional Protocol), which gives the International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction to decide disputes concerning the "interpretation and application" of the Convention.

I have determined, pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) (Avena), 2004 I.C.J. 128 (Mar. 31), by having State courts give effect to the decision in accordance with general principles of comity in cases filed by the 51 Mexican nationals addressed in that decision.

International Court of Justice orders remedies for CésarFierro

On March 31, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the United States had violated the consular rights of 51 death-sentenced Mexican nationals, including César  Fierro. As the remedy for the treaty violation, the ICJ ordered the United States to provide effective judicial "review and reconsideration" of each case to determine if the consular rights violations had a harmful effect on the convictions or sentences.  Mr. Fierro's case was one of just three in which the ICJ held that the USA had violated every provision of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  Despite the fact that Mr. Fierro has exhausted all available avenues of appeal, the ICJ nonetheless determined that the United States must "find an appropriate remedy having the nature of review and reconsideration", consistent with the criteria outlined in its binding decision.

Inter-American Commission recommends new trial

On 29 December 2003, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that the violation of consular rights in the Fierro case requires the remedy of a new trial.  The IACHR ruling has now been posted at:

Merits: Cesar Fierro v. United States

The Commission concludes:

"Mr. Fierro's right to information under Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations constituted a fundamental component of the due process standards to which he was entitled under Articles XVIII and XXVI of the American Declaration [of the Rights and Duties of Man], and that the State's failure to respect and ensure this obligation constituted serious violations of Mr. Fierro's rights to due process and to a fair trial under these provisions of the Declaration.

 Accordingly, should the State execute Mr. Fierro based upon the criminal proceedings for which he is presently convicted and sentenced, the Commission finds that this will constitute an arbitrary deprivation of Mr. Fierro's life contrary to Article I of the Declaration.

In a case such as the present, where a defendant's conviction has occurred as a result of proceedings that fail to satisfy the minimal requirements of fairness and due process, the Commission considers that the appropriate remedy includes a re-trial in accordance with the due process and fair trial protections prescribed under Articles XVIII and XXVI of the American Declaration or, where a re trial in compliance with these protections is not possible, Mr. Fierro's release.

International Court of Justice Orders Temporary Stay of Execution

On 5 February 2003, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unanimously adopted an Order indicating provisional measures (a form of temporary injunction). In that Order, it decided that the United States of America should take "all measures necessary" to ensure that César Fierro Reyna and two other Mexican nationals are not executed pending a final judgment of the Court concerning Mexico's case against the USA (see below).  As the ICJ previously determined in the LaGrand Case, its provisional measures orders are legally binding.  The Court is the judicial arm of the United Nations and is frequently called on to resolve treaty disputes between member States.

Mexico Seeks Remedies at World Court

On January 9, 2003, the Government of Mexico instituted proceedings against the USA at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in a dispute concerning alleged violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in the cases of more than 50 Mexican nationals under sentence of death in the United States (including Mr. Fierro).  The final decision of the ICJ on Mexico's claims will be compulsory, binding on both nations and without appeal.

Case Materials on the ICJ website

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Fierro Case

Following the dismissal of his appeal by the Fifth Circuit, Cesar Fierro asked the United States Supreme Court on September 7, 2002 to grant certiorari (a full review of the Circuit Court decision). On October 11, the Government of Mexico filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Fierro's petition.

Read the petition to the US Supreme Court

The State of Texas filed a response to the petition on November 6, opposing the granting of full review. On November 18, attorneys for Mr. Fierro replied to the state's response.

Read the reply brief filed to answer Texas' objections

The United States Supreme Court had scheduled the Fierro case for discussion during its conference on December 6, 2002. Following that conference, the Court was expected to issue its decision on whether or not it would agree to hear the case.  On March 31, 2003, the Court decided not to hear the Fierro case, giving no reasons for its decision.


Earlier Legal Developments 

July 1, 2002. César Fierro petitions the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a ruling on the merits of his claim that Texas violated his fundamental human rights.

Read the petition to the Inter-American Commission

June 13, 2002. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rules that César Fierro's habeas corpus petition was filed too late and dismisses it without consideration of its merits.

Read an article on the ruling

Read the entire Fifth Circuit Opinion