Washington (Talk Media News) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up two Texas death penalty cases – one focusing on racially tinged testimony, the other on a challenge to how a state determines when intellectual disabilities should prohibit execution.
In Moore v. Texas, lawyers for Bobby James Moore cite Supreme Court precedent in a 2002 decision, Atkins v. Virginia, that executing someone with an intellectual disability violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The 2002 decision, however, did not stipulate how to assess intellectual disability, leaving that to individual states, but did rule in a 2014 Florida case that IQ scores alone aren’t enough to determine intellectual disability and must be combined with other diagnostic assessments.
Moore, 56, was sentenced to death in 1980 for killing a grocery store clerk during a robbery, but the sentence was overturned. After a state hearing in which authorities said they determined he was not intellectually disabled because he had an IQ above 70, he was resentenced to death.
But Moore’s lawyers argue that IQ cutoff is based on “outdated” 1992 standards and pointed out a lower Texas court had determined he was “intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible” for the death penalty, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed that decision.
Clifford Sloan, Moore’s lead attorney, harshly criticized the state appeals court’s decision that judges must continue to apply 23-year-old standards unless the state legislature decides otherwise.
“Abdicating its obligation to enforce the Eighth Amendment to bar the execution of intellectually disabled prisoners, Texas’s highest criminal court has decided that Texas courts must continue to apply a 1992 standard of intellectual disability unless and until the state’s legislature sees fit to enact a statute,” he wrote in a U.S. Supreme Court petition.
“The applicable medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability have changed since that time.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, however, said the Supreme Court had left it to states to determine how to gauge intellectual disabilities among offenders.
Moore’s lawyers had also asked the Supreme Court to weigh whether his time on death row since his 1980 conviction violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but the justices declined to review that issue.
The other death penalty case, Buck v Texas, the Supreme Court agreed to review centers on testimony from a psychologist in an African-American man’s trial that blacks were more dangerous than other members of society.
Duane Edward Buck, 52, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, 32 and her friend, Kenneth Butler, 33 at her Houston home in 1995. Gardner’s daughter screamed “Don’t kill my mama!” before he killed her. Buck’s current attorney’s argue the lawyers’ decision to call the clinical psychologist as an expert witness violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
During the sentencing phase of Buck’s trial, the psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, called race a factor in predicting future crime and said, “It’s a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics and black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”
He then responded “yes” when asked by a prosecutor if being black “increases the future dangerousness” among black defendants.
Death sentences are allowed under Texas law only if prosecutors prove a defendant poses a danger to society.
In a statement released after the Supreme Court decided to take up the case, Buck’s attorneys said: “Trial counsel’s knowing reliance on false, inflammatory and deeply prejudicial evidence explicitly linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness is plainly extraordinary….Justice can only be served in this extraordinary case of racial bias by a new sentencing hearing free of inflammatory, inaccurate stereotypes.”
Braxton said in court papers that factors other than Quijano’s statement led to the jury’s decision to impose the penalty.
“There is no question that state-sponsored discrimination is not to be tolerated,” he wrote.
Both death penalty cases will be heard during the court’s next session, which begins in October.