On October 5, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments describing racial bias in the death penalty case of Duane Buck. Duane Buck was condemned to death in 1997, after his own trial attorneys inexplicably introduced testimony and a report from a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, stating that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black.
Christina Swarns, who represented Mr. Buck at the Supreme Court, argued that the use of Quijano’s testimony was in direct violation of Buck’s right to effective representation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg agreed, stating that because the “expert testimony” was introduced by Buck’s own attorney, it was more harmful. She also referred to his original defense attorney as “abysmal.” Regardless of their political lines, a majority of the Justices seemed to back Buck’s argument.
This is a very unusual case, and what occurred at the penalty phase of this trial is indefensible.
-Justice Samuel Alito
The reach and scope of their support is the remaining question. The Guardian reports:
The justices could decide there was a “constitutional violation in this case and the court of appeals was wrong to say there wasn’t,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. Such a ruling would result in a new sentencing hearing for Buck.
Justice Elena Kagan said a decision instead could focus on the appeals court’s approach to inmates who wish to reopen their cases in unusual circumstances, which would leave the decision on the death sentence to a lower court. Such a ruling might affect other inmates in the three states covered by the fifth circuit – Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
A ruling in the case is expected in 2017.
For the full transcript of the argument, please visit http://bit.ly/2dtcY7F.
For more information on Duane Buck’s case, please visit http://bit.ly/1PquEKK.
You can access articles from The New York Times here and The Guardian here.