Supreme Court Orders New Hearing in Case of Texas Inmate’s Racially Biased Death Sentence

Duane Buck in 2011 (courtesy of attorneys for Duane Buck)

Duane Buck may get justice yet. On Wednesday the Supreme Court of the United States ordered a new hearing for Buck, a black Texas inmate who has sat for years on death row, after hearing claims that improper testimony about his race got him sentenced to death.

As The Guardian reports, justices voted 6-2 in favor of Buck, who has spent 19 of 20 years of incarceration on death row. Buck, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and another man, has argued for years that testimony by “expert” witness Dr. Walter Qujiano resulted in the racially tainted sentencing. Quijano testified that Buck was more likely to commit future acts of violence solely because he is black.


Quijano’s testimony was especially damning because in Texas, the death sentence is an option only if the jury finds unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual would continue to commit acts of violence.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that the federal appeals court that heard Buck’s case was wrong to deny him a new hearing.

“There is a reasonable probability that Buck was sentenced to death in part because of his race,” Roberts said in his opinion. “This is a disturbing departure from the basic premise that our criminal law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.”


Roberts wrote that Quijano’s testimony was “potent evidence.”

“Dr. Quijano’s testimony appealed to a powerful racial stereotype—that of black men as ‘violence prone,’” the justice added. “When a jury hears expert testimony that expressly makes a defendant’s race directly pertinent on the question of life or death, the impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.”


Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing Buck, released a statement Wednesday celebrating the win.


“Today’s decision sends a powerful message that no court can turn a blind eye to racial bias in the administration of criminal justice,” Christina Swarns, counsel of record for Buck and LDF’s litigation director, said in a statement. “Given the persistence of racialized fears, stereotypes and discrimination, this decision is as important to the country as it is to Duane Buck.”


Read more at The Guardian.

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Breanna Edwards

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