US Supreme Court to hear case on cross-border killing

The shooting of a Mexican teenager by an American officer came amid a series of similar incidents in which US border agents were accused of using undue lethal force (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear the case surrounding a Mexican teenager who was fatally shot by an American officer as they stood on opposite sides of the border.

The crux of the case revolves around whether the teen's family has the constitutional right to sue the Border Patrol agent in US courts.

Fifteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez was shot in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez by Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr from across the border in El Paso, Texas in June 2010.

According to the family of the victim, the teen was playing a game in which he and his friends would touch the border fence separating the two countries before running in the opposite direction.

They say he was shot while unarmed and presented no danger.

Mesa countered that the teen and his friends had refused to obey orders and had thrown rocks at him.

Hernandez's family attempted to sue the Border Patrol agent and US authorities for unlawful use of lethal force, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ultimately upheld a decision to dismiss the case, stating that US courts had no jurisdiction since the victim was Mexican and died in Mexico.

The United States declined Mexico's request to have Mesa extradited, according to US media, leaving the victim's family unable to pursue justice in either country.

"If left standing, the Fifth Circuit's decision will create a unique no-man's land -- a law-free zone in which US agents can kill innocent civilians with impunity," Hernandez family lawyer Robert Hilliard wrote in his application to the Supreme Court, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The case spurred protests in Ciudad Juarez and sparked a diplomatic mini-crisis between Washington and Mexico City, with Mexico's then-president Felipe Calderon demanding a "profound and impartial" investigation.

The shooting death came amid a series of similar incidents in which US border agents were accused of using undue lethal force.