Whether you are a lawyer, a consular official, or a family member trying to help a European national at risk of the death penalty, Reprieve can provide free and confidential advice and support.
If you are a US capital defense lawyer…
...please visit our dedicated US Defense Teams page for more information on how Reprieve can help on your case.
If you are a family member…
...of someone facing the death penalty, who may have ties to Europe, please let us know. Reprieve has a dedicated team of experts as well as an in-depth global knowledge and contacts base.
If you are a European consular official or government representative…
...and find out that one of your nationals is at risk of the death penalty, please inform Reprieve as soon as possible.
Consular Assistance: Opportunities and Obligations
Article 36 of the VCCR requires authorities to notify all detained foreigners of their right to have their Consulate informed, and empowers consular staff to gain access to, and take action on behalf of, their nationals. The presence and involvement of consular officials in a case can make the difference between life and death.
For the full text of the VCCR please click here
Consular assistance plays a vital role in safeguarding the rights of foreign nationals facing the death penalty. The following short films provide guidance on how to best support your nationals:
If you are based in the Middle East, North Africa or Southeast Asia please click below.
If you are based in the United States please click below.
What the Consulate Can Do
Consular officials have unique expertise in the culture and language of the prisoner, and access to information that most defence lawyers would otherwise find it very difficult to obtain. The best ways to support your national are to:
1. Intervene immediately
- meet the prisoner and advise them of their rights
- provide welfare assistance, and ensure that their conditions of detention meet acceptable standards
- make sure that the prisoner understands the legal system of the detaining country
- show that their government is behind them
Early intervention is crucial in a capital case, and can change the entire dynamic of how a case proceeds.
2. Ensure the prisoner has qualified legal assistance
- ensure the prisoner has access to effective lawyers
- arrange translators and interpreters
- provide mental health, forensic and other vital experts
European governments have on a number of occasions funded lawyers, or retained their own advocates to be present at hearings.
3. Assist the Legal Team
- intervene with amicus curiae briefs and attend court hearings
- assist with investigation in the home country; witnesses, evidence of innocence, and mental health defences often come from the home country
- make diplomatic representations, including regarding clemency where execution is imminent
4. Inform Reprieve as soon as possible
There are few limitations on what a government may do for its nationals, and Reprieve stands willing to advise and assist in any way possible. Reprieve has a dedicated team of experts and an in-depth global knowledge and contacts base. We are on hand to provide resources and support on all aspects of consular assistance for those facing the death penalty worldwide.
What Foreign Governments Have Done for Their Nationals
There’s a lot a foreign government can do for their nationals facing the death penalty abroad from talking to the prosecution to attending court hearings – reminding a judge that a foreign government is taking notice.
Examples of foreign government assistance include:
- In the case of Samantha Orabator, who was sentenced to death in Laos in 2008, the British government made diplomatic representations and secured a verdict of life imprisonment and a “Memorandum of Understanding" between the Laotian and British governments. As a result, Samantha was able to fly home to Britain in 2009 and the High Court subsequently reduced her sentence to three years imprisonment.
- Since 2009, the Dutch government’s policy on the death penalty has included providing financial assistance to its nationals facing capital charges overseas. There are a number of Dutch nationals facing execution abroad, including in Indonesia, and the government has retained a lawyer to assist in their representation.
- The German government has provided substantial financial assistance and other help to its nationals in a number of cases. For example, in the Florida case of Dieter Riechmann, it funded post-conviction counsel and investigators, facilitated mitigation investigations, and filed amicus briefs in the state and federal supreme courts. Riechmann's death sentence was eventually vacated.
- Working with reprieve, the British Government has intervened in over 15 British national U.S. death penalty cases. It has filed amicus briefs and made high-level diplomatic representations. For instance, it made numerous interventions in the case of dual British-US national Kenneth Richey, who was exonerated and released following 21 years on death row in Ohio.
- Serbia submitted an amicus brief in respect of the prejudice caused to its non English-speaking national Avram Nika, who faces execution in Nevada after the authorities failed to inform the Consulate of his detention.
- Spain’s King made representations to Florida authorities on behalf of Joaquin Martinez before his 2001 re-trial, which was attended by the Spanish Ambassador and Spanish Senators. Martinez was acquitted and returned to Spain. The Spanish government has also allocated funds in the national budget to aid the defence of Spanish nationals facing the death penalty abroad.
- Italy has made representations and submitted amicus briefs on behalf of its nationals. In the Pennsylvania case of Robert Rega, who has been on death row since 2000, it provided an affidavit explaining that substantial consular and other help would have been provided, had it been promptly notified of his Italian nationality rights.
- The European Union has submitted amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of its members. Further, with Member States’ support, Reprieve worked with the EU to bring about the 2011 ban on exports of execution drugs to the U.S. This has forced a number of States throughout the U.S. to change their execution protocols causing delays and creating scope for litigation.
If you have a family member, client or national on death row, please let us know – we are here to help.
or, by post: Reprieve, PO Box 72054, London EC3P 3BZ, United Kingdom
- Relevant legislation When dealing with the case of a client who is either a foreign national, or has significant ties to another country, there are some legal texts that could have a significant bearing on the case and may be worth consulting.
- Amicus briefs The EC Project endeavours to encourage European governments to submit amicus briefs on behalf of their nationals facing imminent execution abroad. There have been several cases in which amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court have had a bearing on death penalty cases.
- Relevant articles and reports The various issues arising from the cases of foreign nationals facing the death penalty in the US - including consular notification, multigenerational mitigation investigation and international standards on the death penalty - have been written on fairly extensively in recent years.
- Other organizations There are a number of other organisations that can offer a wide range of advice, resources and assistance on death penalty cases, both in a general sense, and specifically in the context of capital punishment in the US. Reprieve has collaborated with many of these organisations in the past and we continue to work with many of them on our EC project cases.
- Other websites that may prove helpful include:US Bureau of Consular Affairs website, the Death Penalty Information Centre and the American Bar Association
- EC Project Manual: Our EC Project manual shares our experience and demonstrates the types and level of assistance available to defense counsel when representing European nationals and those with ties to Europe.
- A Reprieve Report: Honored in the Breach - The United States' Failure to Observe its Legal Obligations Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) in Capital Cases
- Key findings from Reprieve's research: Delivering Effective Assistance to Prisoners with Foreign Ties on Death Row in the United States