Allegations of racism in the criminal justice system are nothing new but a high profile case in Texas has led to soul searching at a national level over allegations that a man was sentenced to death because he is black.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court conferenced a decision on whether it will again address the case of Duane Buck, a black man who received a death sentence in 1997 for the murders of two people.
Buck’s guilt is not in question. The case is controversial because his own trial attorneys presented an “expert” witness who said Buck was more likely to be a danger to in the future because he is black.
To decide on the death penalty in Texas law, a jury must unanimously conclude that the accused is likely to commit future criminal acts of violence. The witness in question was a psychologist named Walter Quijano who claimed in a report that Buck was more likely to be dangerous because of his race. He wrote, “Race. Black. Increased probability.”
Although the comments came from a defense expert, the Harris County prosecutor relied on the testimony and presented an argument in favor of a death sentence. The jury accepted the prosecutor’s argument, decided Buck was a future danger, and imposed the death penalty.
Mark White, a Governor of Texas in the 1980s, recently wrote in Time magazine that racism has “infected” the American justice system.
“No prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge should inject—or allow for the injection of—racial fears and stereotypes about the dangerousness of black men into a jury determination about whether a specific black man should live or die,” he wrote.
The race issue in Texas appears to have gone beyond Buck’s case. Three years after the sentence, former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn said it was unacceptable to rely on a testimony linked to race and new hearings would be sought on seven defendants including Buck.
It didn’t happen for Buck. Texas declined to hold a new hearing because Quijano was a defense expert. The Supreme Court stayed his execution in 2011, but denied an appeal for a re-trial.
A dissenting opinion was penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor who said Buck’s death sentence was “marred by racial overtones” it should not be tolerated by the criminal justice system.
“Nothing has been done to right this wrong,” wrote White. We concur with his view that it’s imperative that racial discrimination plays no part in the criminal justice system.”
If you or a family member is charged with a serious crime of this nature and if you believe you have been treated unjustly in the criminal justice system, it’s vital to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney.