The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF]Wednesday Buck v. Davis [SCOTUSblog materials] in favor of a death row inmate seeking a new sentencing hearing. The inmate, Duane Buck, claims that his own lawyers stated during trial that he was more likely to cause future harm due to the color of his skin. The court ruled that Buck has proven both that he suffered from ineffective assistance of counsel and has shown an entitlement to relief in the form of the appeal. The court ruled that it was irrelevant that Buck’s race was only briefly brought up as “some toxins can be deadly in small doses.” Buck has been on death row [CNN report] for the 1995 murders of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. During his appeal, Buck did not argue his innocence but rather that he deserved a new sentence due to his ineffective trial counsel. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had previously denied [opinion, PDF] petitioner’s application for a Certificate of Appealability upon finding that petitioner had not shown extraordinary circumstances justifying relief. The case is being sent down to the lower court where Buck may argue that he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
The death penalty has been a pressing issue across the country. Earlier this month the Mississippi house approved a bill [JURIST report] allowing firing squad executions. Also this month a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio refused to lift [JURIST report] a preliminary injunction that delays executions in Ohio. Last month Judge Michael Merz blocked [JURIST report] Ohio’s lethal injection protocol by deeming it unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. In January the US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to consider a challenge to Alabama’s death penalty system. In December a report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that the use of capital punishment in the US is at a 20-year low [JURIST report].