Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Buck v. Davis, a case that addresses whether the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals improperly denied Duane Buck the right to appeal his death sentence. The Fifth Circuit denied Buck’s appeal, despite the egregiously poor representation Buck received from his attorney, who presented an “expert” who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is African-American.
Buck’s case began in 1996, when he was convicted for the murders of his ex-girlfriend and her friend. In preparing for trial, Buck’s court-appointed attorney (who had had twenty clients sentenced to death) hired a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, to assess whether Buck was likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future, one of the factors a Texas jury must answer unanimously before sentencing someone to death. Although Quijano informed defense counsel that he believed Buck was “more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black,” Buck’s attorney nonetheless moved ahead and presented Quijano at trial. Quijano testified that “the race factor, black, increases future dangerousness.” The jury that heard this evidence found that Buck was likely to be dangerous in the future and sentenced him to death. Buck challenged the sentence, and after nearly twenty years of litigation, the Fifth Circuit denied Buck’s request for a right to appeal (known as a “certificate of appealability” or “COA”) in 2015.