US Supreme Court [official website] Justice Antonin Scalia on Thursday ordered a stay of execution [text, PDF] for Duane Buck, a convicted murderer in Texas, pending a determination on whether to grant certiorari [writ text, PDF] in the case. Buck's appeal is not arguing his innocence, but rather improper practices during his sentencing hearing. A clinical psychiatrist testified that Buck, a black man, was more likely to commit another crime due to his race, and thus should be given the death penalty. The same psychiatrist had testified similarly in six other sentencing hearings that resulted in the death penalty, all of which have been overturned. The appeal alleges a violation of equal protection created when the prosecution asked leading questions to elicit racially-charged responses and when then-attorney general John Cornyn [official website] guaranteed sentencing rehearings [NYT report] in the seven cases. Under Cornyn's administration, six of the rehearings took place, but his successor, Greg Abbott [official website], has not conducted one for Buck.
Of the seven individuals whose death sentences the Attorney General had identified as having been obtained in violation of equal protection, Mr. Buck is the only one who has not been resentenced at a trial free from consideration of his race as a basis for imposing death. The only change that has taken place since the Attorney General identified Mr. Buck's case as being similar to the Saldano case is that a different person now holds the position of Attorney General. That is an insufficient legal basis on which to treat Mr. Buck differently from the six other cases that the former Attorney General had identified as being similar. Capriciousness in the administration of the death penalty is intolerable. Mr. Buck has been twice-subjected to equal protection violations, once when the government asked the jury to sentence him to death, and a second time when the government arbitrarily treated him differently from similarly situated defendants. Texas promised to remedy Mr. Buck's racially-based death sentence, then reneged on that promise, then hid its promise from the federal courts to avoid its enforcement in Mr. Buck's case.Buck's legal team has lost appeals in all courts lower than the Supreme Court as well as an appeal of clemency to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. It is unknown when the court will accept or deny certiorari.
The Supreme Court received international criticism for not staying a Texas execution earlier this year. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] criticized the US execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia [advocacy website], saying that the sentence violated international law [JURIST report]. Pillay said that the US denied consular access [press release] to Leal Garcia, which was his right under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [text, PDF]. Although the State of Texas convicted and sentenced Leal Garcia for murder in 1998. The US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to stay the execution, with the majority in a split per curiam opinion rejecting the Obama administration's arguments that Leal Garcia's execution would be detrimental to foreign policy to the degree that they needed to introduce a stay. Texas officials executed [KTSM report] Leal Garcia an hour after the decision.