Supreme Court Allows Death Sentence Marred By Racial Testimony To Move Forward

In September, the Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of execution to Duane Edward Buck so that it could have time consider whether to hear his case. Buck argued that he was unconstitutionally sentenced to die after a psychologist testified that African-Americans such as Buck are more likely to be violent.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected his case. In a three-justice opinion explaining why they voted not to hear Buck’s case, Justice Altio wrote that while the racially offensive testimony “would provide a basis for reversal of [Buck’s] sentence if the prosecution were responsible for presenting that testimony to the jury,” Buck right to a sentencing hearing free from racism doesn’t apply here because his own attorney’s actions led to the inappropriate comment about African-Americans.

Justice Sotomayor dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Kagan:

Today the Court denies review of a death sentence marred by racial overtones and a record compromised by misleading remarks and omissions made by the State of Texas in the federal habeas proceedings below. Because our criminal justice system should not tolerate either circumstance—especially in a capital case—I dissent and vote to grant the petition.

The practical effect of this decision is that Texas is likely now free to kill Buck without impediment.