Texas Fifth Circuit Rejects Appeal in the Case of Duane Buck

Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Duane Buck, an African-American man who was sentenced to death in Texas after his trial attorneys presented the sentencing jury with expert testimony that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black.  The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) represents Mr. Buck, along with the Texas Defender Service (“TDS”), and unequivocally denounces this shocking ruling.

“The American criminal justice system cannot countenance a death sentence – or an execution – that is a direct product of an appeal to racial fears, biases and stereotypes,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, Director Counsel of  LDF.  “The fact that the Fifth Circuit found no error in an explicitly race-based death sentence demonstrates that our country’s capital punishment system is irretrievably broken.”

Mr. Buck seeks a new, fair sentencing hearing that is free of racial bias. At his 1997 capital sentencing hearing, Mr. Buck’s trial attorneys knowingly presented the testimony of expert psychologist, Walter Quijano, who told the jury that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black. Because a death sentence cannot be imposed in Texas absent a finding of future dangerousness, this false and inflammatory “defense” evidence significantly increased Mr. Buck’s chances of receiving a death sentence.  Although, in a prior appeal, United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer) concluded that Dr. Quijano’s testimony was “bizarre and objectionable,” the Fifth Circuit today found that trial counsel’s introduction of this patently false and inflammatory testimony was “unremarkable” and that Mr. Buck did not “[make] out even a minimal showing that his case is exceptional.”

“No one can – or should – have confidence in a criminal justice system that turns a blind-eye to the kind of blatant racial discrimination that took place in Duane Buck’s case,” said Christina Swarns, Lead Counsel for Mr. Buck and Litigation Director of LDF.  “Mr. Buck must receive a new, fair sentencing hearing.”

Because his trial counsel’s inexplicable injection of racial bias into Mr. Buck’s sentencing hearing so undermines the reliability of his death sentence, Mr. Buck’s request for a new, fair sentencing has drawn widespread support.  One of  Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, one of the surviving victims, former Texas Governor, Mark White (who oversaw 19 executions), and more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy, former prosecutors and judges, and current and former ABA presidents support Mr. Buck’s request for a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias.

LDF will appeal the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

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Since the landmark case of McCleskey v. Kemp, LDF has worked to ensure that our nation’s criminal justice laws are administered fairly and without regard to race. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization.  Please refer to it in media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.