Evidence of racial bias in Texas death penalty cases

The Sentencing Project

Race & Justice News

Under Texas’s death penalty statute, juries may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant poses a future danger. As evidence that Duane Buck was a “future danger,” prosecutors elicited testimony that African Americans, like Mr. Buck, are more likely to commit future acts of violence. In September 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court halted Mr. Buck’s execution in light of arguments that his death sentence was racially influenced. His lawyers have petitioned the court to grant him a new hearing.

Mr. Buck was sentenced to death in Harris County, Texas. In their latest filing, his attorneys cite evidence of a history of racial bias and discrimination in Harris County’s schools, its political system, and its court systems. They also cite research showing that at the time Mr. Buck was sentenced to death, all else being equal, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was three times more likely to seek the death penalty for African Americans than for whites in similar cases and that juries were twice as likely to impose the death penalty in cases involving blacks.