Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Justices, give Duane Buck a second chance, CNN.com
Linda Geffin was the second chair prosecutor in Duane Buck’s case is now calling for a new sentencing in his case. She reflects on the racial bias that permeated Duane Buck’s case and our criminal justice system.

Being black shouldn’t mean a longer prison sentence, USA Today
The destructive myth of black dangerousness was heard in the highest court of the land yesterday – in a death penalty case out of Texas. Never has “broken beyond repair” been more apparent.

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Supreme Court hears death penalty racial bias case from Texas

Duane Buck

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Texas death penalty case of Duane Buck. Buck was sentenced to death after his own lawyer called an “expert” who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. At this crucial moment, when our nation is confronting hard truths about race and the criminal justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether this blatantly racist testimony will be allowed to stand or whether Buck must receive a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Pennsylvania death row inmate Terrance Williams

In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice should have recused himself in the case of Terrance Williams. The judge in question, Justice Ronald Castille had been the District Attorney of Philadelphia and had participated in Williams’ original death penalty original death penalty trial.

The following is a press statement released by attorneys for Williams at the Philadelphia Capital Habeas Unit:

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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Duane Buck’s racial bias death penalty case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments in Buck v. Stephens, a death penalty case raising extraordinary issues of racial bias. Duane Buck is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s ruling that his case did not warrant re-consideration, despite his claim that his lawyer was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly introducing “expert” testimony that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. Buck seeks a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Here is a statement from Duane Buck’s attorneys:

“Trial counsel’s knowing reliance on false, inflammatory and deeply prejudicial evidence explicitly linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness is plainly extraordinary.

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Case of racial bias on appeal to Supreme Court

Duane Buck
Duane Buck was sentenced to death in Texas after his own lawyer called an “expert” who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. At this crucial moment, when our nation is addressing racial bias in the criminal justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the full case in the next few weeks. The Court should do everything in its power to ensure Buck receives a full and fair review of his case and, ultimately, a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias.

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Supreme Court looks at exclusion of blacks from jury in Georgia death penalty case

Supreme Court BuildingIn its next look at the death penalty, the Supreme Court is faced with the case of Timothy Tyrone Foster, to be argued on November 2. Foster is a black man who was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the murder of a white woman. The jury was composed entirely of white Georgia residents after the prosecution excused all four qualified black prospective jurors using its peremptory challenges (challenges for which no reason need be given). The question before the Court is whether those challenges were legal or not, based on precedent set by the 1986 caseBatson v. Kentucky,1 which prohibits peremptory challenges based on the race of potential jurors.

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Supreme Court’s next death penalty case looks at roles of judge, jury

Supreme Court Building

Continuing its look at death penalty, the Supreme Court will hear argument on Tuesday in Hurst v. Florida1 to decide whether Florida’s practices in capital trials are constitutional. At issue in Hurst is whether a judge properly imposed a death sentence without the necessary fact-finding by a jury. Florida is one of the few states that gives capital sentencing power to judges.

The Supreme Court specifically approved Florida’s death penalty law in 1976, along with those in Georgia and Texas.2 They were the first states to reinstate the death penalty after the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia3 declaring death penalty laws in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court gave the Florida law its blessing despite concerns that the ultimate sentencing authority was the judge. Several years later, the Court specifically rejected a challenge to a death sentence imposed by a Florida judge even though a jury had recommended a life sentence.4

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Questions about mitigating factors, in Kansas and beyond – a U.S. Supreme Court preview

Supreme Court Building

In preparation for the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, starting on October 5, we will feature an occasional guest column by our newest board member, Ursula Bentele. Ursula is a renowned Supreme Court scholar, who will look at some of the Court’s cases with a particular eye towards those with implications for the death penalty. Once the Court has heard oral arguments and delivers its opinions, she will reflect on those outcomes and comment on how the Court’s resolution of the issues might affect the future of the death penalty in this country.

The first capital cases in front of the Court this term, scheduled for argument on October 7, involve three people whose death sentences were overturned by the Supreme Court of Kansas. Kansas’s highest court ruled that the instructions given to the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial were not adequate, and therefore their sentences are invalid.1 The fundamental issue in the case is obligation of jurors to consider mitigating circumstances in capital trials.

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Narrow Supreme Court ruling gives glimpse at future of death penalty

Supreme Court Building

On the last day of its spring session, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a long-anticipated death penalty case, Glossip v Gross.

Though the case’s scope was narrow – only relevant to one drug used in a handful of state execution protocols – the oral arguments held in April unfolded with rare courtroom drama and revealed deep disagreement between the Justices about the death penalty in the United States.

The Court’s final ruling in favor of Oklahoma’s right to use the drug in question – midazolam – seemed to ignore the fact that the death penalty is falling into disuse around the country and that there is a growing consensus across the political spectrum that it is broken beyond repair. But those facts were not lost on the Court’s minority.

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