The issue of racial prejudice came before the Supreme Court this week in the case of a Texas death row inmate whose trial was marred by testimony that Black men are more dangerous than other ethnicities.
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows death row inmate Duane Buck. Nearly two decades after a Texas jury sent Buck to death row for killing two people, including his ex-girlfriend, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to look for a third time at whether the his sentence improperly was tainted by testimony and evidence referring to his black race. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)
Duane Buck was convicted of murder after killing his former girlfriend and one of her friends while her children watched. Texas law allows death sentences only if prosecutors can show the defendant poses a future danger to society.
While the initial jury in Buck’s case had little trouble convicting him, according to NPR, it was less clear whether he deserved the death penalty. Throughout the trial’s sentencing phase, psychologist Walter Quijano testified that race was one of the factors associated with future dangerousness.
“It’s sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics and Black people, are over represented in the criminal justice system,” Dr. Quijano testified.
A prosecutor then asked, “The race factor, Black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reason, is that correct?” Dr. Quijano answered, “Yes.”
A year ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected an appeal by Buck for the court to consider the question of race in his case. Buck then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court accepted the Buck case appeal, and arguments on the case were heard on Oct. 5. Experts, including both liberal and conservative onlookers, expect the justices to side with Buck. A decision is expected by late June, according to NBC News.
“What occurred at the penalty phase is indefensible,” one of the conservative justices on the court, Justice Samuel Alito said according to CBS News, which also noted that Justice Clarence Thomas did not ask any questions, per his standard practice.
Christina A. Swarns, a lawyer for Buck, advocated that the court not to lose sight of what had happened to her client.
“This expert’s evidence not only prejudiced Mr. Buck at sentencing, Swarns said. “It also put the very integrity of the courts in jeopardy.”