U.S. Supreme Court Allows Racially Biased Testimony to Stand in Texas Case; Restores Capital Conviction in Ohio

On November 7, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant review to Texas inmate Duane Buck.  Buck sought a new sentencing trial because of testimony suggesting he posed a greater danger to society because he is black.  During his trial, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano told the court that Buck’s race increased the likelihood of his future dangerousness.  Three of the Justices on the Court (Alito, Scalia and Breyer), which had granted Buck a stay just before his scheduled execution on September 15, said his case was different from other similar cases where relief was granted because it was Buck’s defense attorney who was responsible for eliciting the offensive testimony.   Justices Sotomayor and Kagan dissented, stating, “Today the court denies review of a death sentence marred by racial overtones. . . . Buck did not argue that his race made him less dangerous, and the prosecutor had no need to revisit the issue. But she did, in a question specifically designed to persuade the jury that Buck’s race made him more dangerous and that, in part on this basis, he should be sentenced to death.”  (See more on this case below.)

On the same day, the Supreme Court reinstated the death sentence of Archie Dixon in Ohio.  Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned Dixon’s conviction after finding that his confession to a murder was invalid due to police coercion.  The Court granted certiorari and reversed this decision, noting that federal courts must give great deference to state court findings, and writing in an unsigned opinion that "there is no evidence that any of Dixon's statements was the product of actual coercion." (Bobby v. Dixon, No.10-1540).

(A. de Vogue, "Supreme Court Denies Appeal on Race Tainted Death Penalty Case," ABC News, November 7, 2011; Buck v. Thaler, No.11-6391 (Sotomayor, J., dissenting from denial of cert.)Supreme Court reinstates death sentence in Ohio 'buried alive' murder case," CBS News, November 8, 2011).  See U.S. Supreme Court and Race.  See also previous DPIC note on Buck.

Duane Buck case: Prominent individuals from Texas have petitioned Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos on behalf of Duane Buck, asking her to remedy what the Supreme Court declined to review.  Their letter read, “We write to you today, as elected officials, civil rights leaders, faith leaders, legal professionals, past ABA presidents, a former governor, and concerned citizens dedicated to protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system, to request that you refrain from seeking an execution date in Duane Buck’s case until the parties and courts have been given adequate opportunity and time to address the troubling issues in Mr. Buck’s case. We believe that no one should be executed whose death sentence was based on racially-biased evidence.”

(Press release, Attorneys for Duane Buck, "More than 60 Civil Rights and Faith Leaders, Elected Officials, Former Prosecutors, and Past ABA Presidents Call On Harris County D.A. To Provide Remedy in Case of Duane Buck," November 7, 2011).