Press Release
July 5, 2016

Holland & Knight Is Co-Counsel in High-Profile Racial Bias Death Penalty Case to Be Heard by U.S. Supreme Court This Fall

NEW YORK (July 5, 2016) – Holland & Knight is serving as co-counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the Texas Defender Service in a high-profile racial bias death penalty case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

The firm is representing Duane Buck, who is asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that his case was not sufficiently extraordinary to warrant consideration of his claim that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly introducing "expert" testimony that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. He ultimately seeks a new, fair sentencing hearing free of racial bias.

Mr. Buck was condemned to death in 1997 after being found guilty of the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and another man by a Texas jury. During the trial, his own attorneys introduced the "race-as-dangerous" evidence in a case in which future dangerousness was a prerequisite for a death sentence and the central issue at sentencing. His initial post-conviction counsel did not challenge the trial counsel’s conduct.

Because of this succession of severely deficient lawyers, Holland & Knight, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Texas Defender Service are arguing that Mr. Buck’s Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel at trial was violated. In their petition seeking Supreme Court review, they said that his trial lawyers had been ineffective and that Mr. Buck’s death sentence was infected by racial bias.

"Mr. Buck’s case is a powerful reminder of the unfortunate reality that racial bias continues to taint our criminal justice system, and it offers the Supreme Court an important opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to eradicating such discrimination," said Samuel Spital, the Holland & Knight partner leading the firm’s pro bono representation of Mr. Buck.

Buck v. Stephens will be argued during the court’s next term, which begins in October. The case has received extensive media coverage, including this in-depth New Yorker article.

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