Buck v. Davis

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: February 22, 2017
  • Case #: No. 15–8049
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Roberts, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Kennedy, J., Ginsburg, J., Breyer, J., Sotomayor, J. and Kagan, JJ, joined. Tomas, J, dissented, joined by Alito, J.
  • Full Text Opinion

Testimony from an expert witness regarding propensity for violence based on race meets the Strickland test for ineffective assistance of counsel and the related Rule 60(b)(6) Motion should have been granted as such testimony is not de minimis.

Petitioner was convicted of murder for shooting his stepsister and an acquaintance. Under Texas law, petitioner could be sentenced to death if the jury found that he was likely to commit future violent acts. At trial, a psychologist testified that race played a role in one’s propensity for violence and as Petitioner is a black, he is more likely to behave violently. Petitioner was sentenced to death. Petitioner appealed. Ultimately, Petitioner filed a motion to reopen his petition under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). The District Court denied his motion. Likewise, the Fifth Circuit denied Petitioner’s motion. Petitioner’s motion for rehearing was denied. Here, the Court agreed with the lower court that the counsel’s behavior here was below the accepted threshold and therefore deficient. As the testifying psychiatrist was an expert, his testimony regarding Petitioner’s race took on extra weight making it unacceptable. Therefore, the psychologist’s testimony was prejudicial. Further, the Court held that the lower court erred in denying Petitioner’s Rule 60(b)(6) Motion by categorizing the testimony regarding race is not de minimis violation. Additionally, the Respondent failed to timely raise a Teague argument thereby waiving such an argument.   

Reversed and remanded. 

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