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TDS News Release – Texas Defender Service Wins Relief in U.S. Supreme Court for Death Row Prisoner Duane Buck

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Texas Defender Service Wins Relief in U.S. Supreme Court for Death Row Prisoner Duane Buck

Five years after Texas Defender Service obtained a life-saving stay of execution for Texas death row prisoner Duane Buck, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, 6-2, that Mr. Buck’s trial lawyers were ineffective when they introduced an “expert” witness who said Mr. Buck would be more dangerous in the future because he is Black.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling paves the way for a new, fair sentencing trial, free of racial bias, for Mr. Buck,” said Kate Black, Senior Staff Attorney at Texas Defender Service and the lawyer who won Mr. Buck’s stay of execution in 2011.  “This decision gives Harris County the opportunity to put the ugliness of the racial bias that affected Mr. Buck’s original trial behind it.”

The 6-2 ruling in Buck v. Davis means Mr. Buck will either be resentenced to life imprisonment, or receive a new sentencing hearing untainted by racial bias. The decision also marks the fifth time since 2003 that Texas Defender Service has won relief for a death row client in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Duane Buck was sentenced to death in 1997 by a Harris County jury after his own trial counsel  elicited “expert” testimony from Dr. Walter Quijano that Mr. Buck was more likely to commit violent crimes in the future because he is Black.  Because a Texas death sentence requires a unanimous jury finding that the defendant will be likely to commit future acts of criminal violence, Quijano’s testimony effectively asserted that Mr. Buck’s race made him more deserving of a death sentence.

In Mr. Buck’s case, the prosecutor relied on this “evidence” to argue that the jury should find Mr. Buck a future danger.  The jury agreed and sentenced Mr. Buck to death.  Notwithstanding the jury’s prediction that he would be dangerous in the future, Mr. Buck has had no disciplinary infractions in his more than 20 years on death row.

“Duane Buck’s case provides yet more proof of how the Texas death penalty gets it wrong – and, in this case, by shamefully using race to argue Mr. Buck would be a future danger,” said Kathryn Kase, Senior Counsel at TDS and co-counsel to Mr. Buck with Ms. Black.  “Harris County now has a second chance to say once and for all that racial bias has no place in the criminal justice system. It can do that by settling Mr. Buck’s case.”

Ms. Black took on Mr. Buck’s case when he already had an execution date and saved his life when she won him a stay of execution on September 14, 2011.  That stay of execution allowed Ms. Black to assemble a larger team to defend Mr. Buck, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF),resulting in today’s Supreme Court decision.

“When I began reviewing Duane’s case back in 2011, I was shocked that his death sentence was allowed to stand despite this terrible example of racial bias,” Ms. Black said. “We are grateful to our partners at LDF, in particular to Christina Swarns, who so artfully argued on Mr. Buck’s behalf  in the Supreme Court.  It was a team that would not rest until this injustice was addressed. ”

“Kate Black took on this case when other lawyers could not see the path to reversing Mr. Buck’s death sentence,” Ms. Kase.  “This is exactly why Texas Defender Service exists: to obtain justice when others have given up on those society would condemn. “

Texas Defender Service is a nonprofit law firm that works for a better, more just criminal justice system, particularly in the state’s administration of capital punishment.  The other cases that TDS lawyers have won in the Supreme Court are: Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003); Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005); Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007); and Ayestas v. Thaler, No. 12-6656 (U.S. – June 3, 2013).

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Note to Editors: the Supreme Court’s opinion in Buck v. Davis can be found here:


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