LDF Video Examines Extraordinary Case of Racial Bias in TX Death Penalty Case on Final Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Texas Defender Service (TDS) released a video about an extraordinary case of racial bias in the administration of the death penalty. A Broken Promise in Texas is a film about Duane Buck, an African-American man who was sentenced to death in Texas after his own lawyers introduced “expert” testimony and an “expert” report stating that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black. Under Texas law, a death sentence can only be imposed if the jury finds that the defendant will pose a “future danger.”

Mr. Buck’s case, Buck v. Stephens, is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and is expected to be conferenced on April 22, 2016.

“Twenty-nine years after McCleskey v. Kemp, where LDF presented the Supreme Court with evidence demonstrating that race plays an arbitrary, yet determinative role in the administration of the death penalty, the Duane Buck case makes this point yet again,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “Because racial bias corrupts both Mr. Buck’s death sentence, and the administration of the death penalty overall, the Supreme Court should declare both unconstitutional.”

“Mr. Buck’s case offers the United States Supreme Court a critically important opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principle that racial bias has no place in the administration of criminal justice,” said Christina Swarns, Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Counsel of Record for Mr. Buck. “By ensuring that the courts do not turn a blind eye to the explicit racial discrimination in Mr. Buck’s case, the Supreme Court ensures the integrity of not only Mr. Buck’s sentence but the criminal justice system overall.”

In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn admitted that the “expert” testimony linking race to dangerousness was unconstitutional. The Attorney General’s office identified seven cases, including Mr. Buck’s, where-because of such testimony-new, fair capital sentencing hearings were required.  Texas promised to admit error in each of these cases and kept its promise in every case except Mr. Buck’s. Texas has never offered a valid explanation for its failure to keep its promise to admit that Duane Buck’s capital sentencing hearing was rendered unconstitutional by the admission of racially biased testimony.

Narrated by former Texas Governor Mark White, the newly updated video demonstrates how Mr. Buck’s case exemplifies the historical and contemporary concerns raised by people throughout the country about the fairness of the American criminal justice system. The injustice of Mr. Buck’s case is described through a series of powerful interviews with leading figures in the Texas civil rights movement, state politicians, the surviving victim in the case, one of the trial prosecutors and Mr. Buck’s family members, all of whom call for a new, fair sentencing hearing free of racial bias. 

A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case can be accessed here:

2-minute version   |   10-minute version 

For additional background on Mr. Buck’s case, please click here.

Mr. Buck’s Petition for Certiorari can be accessed here.

The bipartisan amicus brief in support of Mr. Buck can be accessed here.