FEATURED POST

'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

Image
Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Former Texas Governor: Racism Has Infected Our Justice System

Duane Buck
Duane Buck
Bias too often plays an unfair role in our criminal justice system

No prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge should inject - or allow for the injection of - racial fears and stereotypes about the dangerousness of black men into a jury determination about whether a specific black man should live or die. 

And no court should uphold a death sentence where the jury was invited to sentence a man to death because of his race.

But that's precisely what happened in the case of Duane Buck.

When Buck was on trial for the murders of 2 people in Harris County, Texas, in 1997, his own trial attorneys presented an "expert" witness who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. The prosecutor urged the jury to rely on this racially charged testimony to find that Buck deserved a death sentence, and the trial judge allowed the presentation of this evidence and argument without comment. Buck was sentenced to die. The Supreme Court stayed his execution in 2011 but denied his appeal for a re-trial. At the time, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito characterized this race-based testimony as "bizarre and objectionable" but said it should not be re-tried since the witness was elicited by the defense lawyers. Writing the dissent, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor declared that Buck's death sentence was "marred by racial overtones" that "our criminal justice system should not tolerate."

Nothing has been done to right this wrong. That can change if Texas or the U.S. Supreme Court agrees that the extraordinary unfairness in this case must be addressed. Buck's petition is expected to be conferenced by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 22.

No constitutional principle is more fundamental than the imperative that racial discrimination play no role in a criminal trial. This is especially true where, as here, the death penalty is at issue.

When the U.S. Supreme Court looks closely at Buck's case, it will see what former Texas Attorney General (and current U.S. Senator) John Cornyn, saw in 2000, when he conceded that a jury's consideration of expert testimony linking race to dangerousness violates the constitution.

Cornyn scoured Texas's death row, identified the 6 cases - including Buck's - where such testimony was presented, and promised that in each of those cases, Texas would set aside its objections and admit that the death sentences were unconstitutional. Texas kept its promise and all the identified defendants - except Buck - have received new, color-blind sentencing hearings.

Texas has never explained its failure to keep its promise in Buck"s case. The argument that Buck's case is different because his own attorneys introduced the false and racially biased testimony is dishonest. The same "expert" was also a defense witness in 2 of the other cases in which Texas conceded constitutional error and allowed a new sentencing hearing.

I know something about the death penalty. As Governor of Texas, I oversaw 19 executions. It is clear to me that the right thing to do in this case is ensure that Buck receives a new, fair sentencing hearing.

But don't just take my word for it. Ask former Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Linda Geffin, one of Buck's trial prosecutors. She has called for a new sentencing, stating: "No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race."

Or ask the surviving victim of the crime, Phyllis Taylor, who has said he has forgiven Buck and does not want him to be executed.

Or ask Cornyn, who promised that the death sentenced prisoners subject to this "expert's" testimony would receive a new, fair sentencing hearing where race is not a factor.

Or ask the more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy, former prosecutors and judges, and past presidents of the American Bar Association who agree that Buck must be treated like the other defendants who were granted new sentencing hearings.

Our country is currently grappling with the unfair role that racial bias too often plays in our criminal justice system. Growing numbers of people are recognizing that racial discrimination seriously undermines public confidence in our system's fairness and accuracy.

While Buck's case is an unusually egregious example, it offers the opportunity to show that the people of the State of Texas do not tolerate unfairness and injustice. Texans are strong, and there are few actions more powerful than admitting a mistake and fixing it.

Now, more than ever, Buck must be given a new, fair sentencing hearing that is free from the toxic effects of discrimination. It's time for this mistake to be fixed.

Source: TIME Magazine, Mark White, April 20, 2016. Mark White served as the 43rd Governor of Texas from 1983 to 1987.

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

Alabama set to execute 83-year-old for pipe bomb murders

Iran: Execution Of A Sports Coach In Hamadan

Texas: Why This Judge Dreads Execution Day

California death row inmate to be freed; no retrial planned

Vengeful Alabama to Kill 83-Year-Old Man

Jeff Sessions: It's OK with feds if Alabama executes judge's killer

Iran: Juvenile Offender Mohammad Reza Haddadi at Imminent Risk of Execution

Middle East tops death penalty list with 'gruesome tally' of executions

Iraq: French female Daesh member escapes death penalty, given life in jail