LDF client Duane Buck was sentenced to death after an expert witness testified that black people are more likely to be dangerous than white people. LDF has sought for years to win a new sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck because of the racist testimony, and in October 2016, LDF argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In February 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-2, declared that Mr. Buck’s trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for introducing the “toxin” of racial bias into Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing hearing. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the State of Texas formally agreed not to see a new death sentence against Mr. Buck, and he was resentenced to life.
As the case made its way through the appeals process, LDF and our community organizers worked to build public support in a variety of ways. These included: social media campaigns, a petition drive, making information about the case accessible on multiple mediums, and coordinating a statement calling for a new hearing from more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, and prosecutors. To learn more about this effort, you can view the video below, A Broken Promise in Texas Race, the Death Penalty, and the Duane Buck Case.
A Broken Promise in Texas Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case
Arkansas (Pine Bluff)
TMI organizers are working in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to help develop organizing capacity within that community’s African-American population. This initiative is an outgrowth of LDF’s representation of death-sentenced prisoner, Kenneth Reams. During the course of its representation of Mr. Reams, LDF uncovered significant evidence of disengagement, exclusion, and mistreatment of African-Americans that come into contact with the Pine Bluff criminal justice. To begin the process of rectifying these problems, TMI organizers conducted a series of meetings with Pine Bluff residents and representatives of local churches, universities, policy institutes, and community organizations about how to improve the local administration of criminal justice. Through these dialogues, LDF identified four main organizing objectives:
Develop and support an indigenous organizing initiative in Pine Bluff to address the intersection of race and criminal justice;
Document Pine Bluff police and prosecutorial misconduct;
Investigate the Pine Bluff criminal justice system; and
Reform jury selection procedures in Pine Bluff.
TMI organizers have helped Pine Bluff and Little Rock community stakeholders establish a viable coalition to address both longstanding and emerging problems with racial bias in the Arkansas/Pine Bluff criminal justice systems. Stakeholders include: individuals from the University of Little Rock, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Philander Smith College, and the Little Rock branch of the NAACP.
Outside of Pine Bluff, we remain engaged in advocacy efforts across the state of Arkansas. In April 2017, LDF sent a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson detailing how and why his original plan to execute 8 men in 10 days was not only cruel, it also increased the risk of wrongful executions. Unfortunately, the state carried out four executions, and four stays of execution were granted.
Additionally, on a quarterly basis, the Institute releases a report, Death Row USA containing all death row populations by state, as well as other statistics pertaining to capital punishment in the United States.