Court Battles

Supreme Court blocks execution of Texas man

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with a Texas man on death row, giving him to the chance to appeal his death sentence.

The court ruled 6-2 that the lower court erred when it denied Duane Buck the Certificate of Appealability (COA) he needs to pursue claims that there was a racial bias against him when he was tried for the murders of his ex-girlfriend and her friend.

At trial, Buck’s lawyer called a witness to the stand who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he’s black. Under Texas law, a jury must unanimously agree that a felon will be dangerous in the future before giving the death penalty.

The Supreme Court further ruled that Buck had demonstrated ineffective counsel and that the district court abused its discretion in denying Buck the right to reopen his case.  

{mosads}“No competent defense attorney would introduce evidence that his client is liable to be a future danger because of his race,” the court said.

In writing the opinion of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the jurors in Buck’s case were not asked to base the risk of him being dangerous in the future on his past acts, which had occurred outside of prison and within the context of romantic relationships with women.

“If the jury did not impose a death sentence, Buck would be sentenced to life in prison and no such romantic relationship would be likely to arise. A jury could conclude that those changes would minimize the prospect of future dangerousness,” Roberts wrote.

“But one thing would never change: the color of Buck’s skin. Buck would always be black.”

Justices Antony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority ruling.

In a dissenting opinion, on which Justice Samuel Alito joined, Justice Clarence Thomas accused the court of bulldozing procedural obstacles and misapplying federal law to provide Buck relief. 

But he said there’s at least one upside to the case.

“Today’s decision has few ramifications, if any, beyond the highly unusual facts presented here,” he said.


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