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Supreme Court To Hear Two Major Death Penalty Cases

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On June 6, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving the death penalty and how race and intellectual disabilities factor into how capital punishment is meted out.

The first case involves Duane Buck, who was convicted of murdering a girlfriend and one of her friends as her children watched. Buck's appeal argument has root in an exchange between defense expert witness, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano, and the state prosecutor during the sentencing proceedings, according to The New York Times.

“It’s a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics and black people, are over represented in the criminal justice system,” Quijano testified.

But when a prosecutor followed up, he said, “The race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons -- is that correct?”

“Yes,” Quijano answered, although it is not true that one's skin color alone increases “future dangerousness.” Buck is black.

Buck's attorney, Jerry Guerinot, did not object to the questioning. That might be because Guerinot doesn't have a good track record when it comes to keeping his clients off death row.

"A good way to end up on death row in Texas is to be accused of a capital crime and have Jerry Guerinot represent you,” according to a 2010 New York Times story about the attorney, who at the time had represented 20 people sentenced to death in Texas. That number was more than the total number of people on death row in half the states that still carry out capital punishment.

The Supreme Court has also agreed to hear another Texas death penalty case: Bobby James Moore, who was sentenced to death after he shot and killed a grocery store clerk during a botched robbery in 1980. According to USA Today, Moore's attorneys say his mental competency was determined using outdated methods, rather than current medical standards, which the attorneys claim would deem him mentally disabled.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled the execution of mentally disabled people was unconstitutional and tightened rules for how they were sentenced.

In addition, Moore's lawyers argue that execution after spending more than 35 years on death row is cruel and unusual punishment.

"Prolonged confinement for many decades under sentence of death represents a sword of Damocles perpetually hanging just above the condemned individual’s head," Moore's lead attorney, Clifford Sloan, argued in court papers, according to USA Today.

Sources: USA Today, The New York Times (2) / Photo credit: Joe Ravi via Wikimedia Commons

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