A blog produced by the Oregon Justice Resource Center discussing the death penalty (capital punishment) in Oregon and in the Ninth Circuit.
We once again step outside of the Ninth Circuit and look to another disturbing case arising out of Texas. In September 2011 the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Duane Buck (just hours before his execution) in order to decide whether to take Mr. Buck’s case and to determine if race played an improper role in Mr. Buck’s death sentence. The facts are clear, race did play a role. The ACLU wrote:
In Texas, imposing the death penalty in capital cases comes down to one question: is the defendant going to be a “future danger” if he or she is not executed? Mr. Buck was sentenced to die based on testimony by Dr. Walter Quijano, who told jurors that Mr. Buck was more likely to pose a future danger to society because he is black. Dr. Quijano’s testimony came in 1997, more than 20 years after Texas promised the Supreme Court that “no correlation exists between the race/ethnic background of a defendant and the probability that he will be either convicted of capital murder or given the death penalty.
The same psychologist gave similar testimony in a total of seven Texas cases. In 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn did something highly unusual for a prosecutor: he called for the retrial of all seven men who had been sentenced to death based on Dr. Quijano’s testimony that their race or ethnic background made them more dangerous. This list of seven included Duane Edward Buck.
Courts granted new sentencing trials to six of those inmates, but upheld Mr. Buck’s unconstitutional death sentence on technical procedural grounds (which we have previously noted often lead to unjust results based on form over substance). Mr. Buck was therefore not granted an opportunity to have a new sentencing hearing unbiased by race.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant the appeal of Mr. Buck. Several justices published their reasoning in the case: Justice Alito, Jr. issued a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in which Justices Scalia and Breyer joined. Justice Sotomayor issued a dissent from the denial of certiorari, in which Justice Elena Kagan joined. Justice Sotomayor wrote:
Today the Court denies review of a death sentence marred by racial overtones and a record compromised by misleading remarks and omissions made by the State of Texas in the federal habeas proceedings below. Because our criminal justice system should not tolerate either circumstance — especially in a capital case — I dissent and vote to grant the petition.
Kate Black who works for the Texas Defender Service stated:
We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has for now declined to review Duane Buck’s case and will not be considering whether the reliance on Mr. Buck’s race as a basis for asking the jury to sentence him to death violated the Constitution. It is now up to the State of Texas to ensure that Mr. Buck receives a sentencing hearing that is not impacted by the color of his skin.
For more about the race and the death penalty, see DPIC.