U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Two Death Penalty Cases Next Term

On the heels of the 7-1 Foster ruling, reversing a decision by the Georgia Supreme Court that overlooked evidence of racial discrimination in the trial of Timothy Foster, the U.S. Supreme Court recently confirmed that it would review the cases of two African American men on death row in Texas: Duane Buck and Bobby Moore.

Duane Buck was convicted of killing his girlfriend and another man in 1995. During Buck’s trial, his lawyer called a defense witness, psychologist Walter Quijano, who testified that the fact that Buck is black increased his likelihood for future violence. Buck’s current lawyers argue that his defense was ineffective, and his trial was tainted by racial bias as they seek a new sentencing hearing from the court: “Left uncorrected, trial counsel’s injection of explicit racial discrimination into Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing profoundly undermines confidence in the integrity of both Mr. Buck’s death sentence and the criminal justice system over all.”

In 1980, Bobby Moore was convicted of killing a shopkeeper at age 20. Moore, whose IQ was confirmed to be 70 in a lower court, falls within the range of “mild mental retardation,” which should exclude him from the death penalty. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court’s determination of Moore’s intellectual disablity using a two-decades old definition of intellectual disability rather than the more current definition used by the lower court. Moore’s defense counsel argues that the use of these outdated standards conflicts with a 2014 Supreme Court ruling which stressed the necessity of using more modern diagnostic standards to determine intellectual disability. Moore’s lawyers also contend that his 35 years in prison (15 of those in solitary confinement) constitute a violation of his 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court is only reviewing the issue of intellectual disability.

These cases, like far too many others, demonstrate the gross inequities and biases that continue to plague the death penalty system. Race, class, mental disability, geography are all factors that often have more bearing on who gets the death penalty than the crime itself.  Such a system cannot be called a just one. How can we trust this system to determine who lives and who dies? We can’t.

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