Moral Low Ground

US Government

Citing Racist Defense, Supreme Court Rules 6-2 to Stop Texas Execution of Duane Buck

The United States Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a black Texas prisoner on Wednesday, citing racist testimony presented by his own legal defense team during his sentencing hearing.

The Houston Chronicle reports the court’s 6-2 decision in Buck v Davis allows convicted murderer Duane Buck, 53, to go back to a lower court and request a new sentencing hearing due to legal improprieties. Buck, who shot his ex-girlfriend and her friend dead in a street in front of her children in 1995, was sentenced to death after one of his own defense witnesses testified he posed a future threat because he is black.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the ruling in favor of Buck, wrote that he “may have been sentenced to death in part because of his race.” Roberts added the witness’ testimony “said, in effect, that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution. No competent defense attorney would introduce such evidence about his own client.”

“This is a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our criminal justice system: Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” the chief justice said.

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, with Thomas arguing that racism should take a back seat to “the heinousness of petitioner’s crime and his complete lack of remorse.”

More than 100 civil rights leaders, clergy, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges and even a former Texas governor had called for a new sentencing hearing for Buck free of racial bias.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Buck’s case will be reviewed following the high court’s ruling. “Racially charged evidence has no place in any courtroom and this administration will not tolerate its presence,” Ogg said in a statement. “We remain committed to seeking justice for the victims of Duane Buck’s heinous criminal acts, and will do so without what Chief Justice Roberts described as the ‘strain of racial prejudice’ present at the 1997 trial in which Buck was convicted.”

Buck’s attorneys welcomed the ruling. “Today, the Supreme Court made clear that there is no place for racial bias in the American criminal justice system,” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund litigation director Christina Swarns said in a statement. Texas Defender Service senior staff attorney Kate Black said the ruling “gives us hope that the ugliness of Mr. Buck’s tainted death sentence will soon be put behind us and he will receive a life sentence.”

Buck can now receive a new sentencing hearing and could possibly have his sentence reduced from death to life imprisonment.

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