death row

Death Row Inmate Duane Buck has Sentence Reduced to Life

By Peek & Toland on March 8, 2018

Racist testimony from a defense witness dogged the death row case of Duane Buck for years. Last year, the highest court in the land sent his case back to the lower courts. In October, prosecutors in Harris County offered a life sentence instead.

Buck was convicted of a double killing in 1995. Although his guilt was not an issue, allegations of racist testimony from an expert witness at the sentencing hearing went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, noted the Texas Tribune.

The death row inmate reached a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors for the sentence to be reduced to life in prison.

Life sentence for Duane Buck

Death row inmate Duane Buck has sentence reduced to life

The 54-year-old Buck was convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of his ex-girlfriend and her friend in Harris County. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office added two new charges of attempted murder in October.

Under a plea deal agreement, Buck admitted the new charges and was sentenced to two additional terms of 60 years in prison.

In exchange, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s agreed to drop the death penalty for the killings. All three sentences will run concurrently, the Tribune noted.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she did not believe a jury 22 years on would return a death sentence for Buck.

In their appeal of Buck’s initial sentence, his lawyers said his sentencing hearing was prejudiced due to the fact an expert witness for the defense claimed he was more likely to be a future danger because he is black. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with these concerns earlier this year, handing the case back to Harris County for a retrial.

The Supreme Court was concerned about the issues of stereotyping people of a certain race.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said racial stereotyping should have no place in a sentencing hearing. He said:

“Our laws punish people for what they do, not for who they are.”

The Supreme Court voted to re-open Buck’s cases in a 6-2 decision. The justices were critical of the authorities in Texas for declining to give a new sentencing hearing to Buck.

Texas treats murder cases very seriously and routinely executes more people than any other state. Call our Austin criminal defense attorneys for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Halted Last Execution of 2017

By Peek & Toland on February 15, 2018

In recent years, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has halted numerous executions. The last execution of 2017 was no exception.

In November, the court stayed the execution of Juan Castillo scheduled for December 14. His case was sent back to the trial court to look into claims of false testimony.

The 36-year-old was sentenced to death in the 2003 robbery and murder of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio, the Texas Tribune reported. Prosecutors said Castillo and three other people wanted to rob Garcia after they took him to a secluded area with the promise of sex with a female accomplice. Garcia tried to run but Castillo shot him dead, according to the accomplices.

At his trial, Gerardo Gutierrez, a witness who bunked near Castillo in the Bexar County Jail, claimed Castillo had confessed to the crime when locked up. However, in 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit in which he said he lied.

last execution of 2017

Texas halted last execution of 2017

Castillo lost a previous appeal. That did not stop the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling his case is now applicable for further review.

The Court of Appeals previously ruled it was a constitutional violation when the prosecution knowingly obtained a conviction by using a false testimony. In a case in 2009, the court ruled even if prosecutors are not aware of the false nature of the testimony, this still violates the defendant’s right to due process.

The court ruled:

“Although the present case involves unknowing, rather than knowing, use of testimony, we see no reason for subjecting the two types of errors to different standards of harm.”

In recent years, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has halted an increasing number of executions.

In 2016, the Tribune noted a hiatus of more than five months in executions in the Lone Star State, the longest gap since 2008. The gap nine years ago reflected a nationwide pause in executions as the U.S. Supreme Court looked at the constitutionality of lethal injections.

Last year, a combination of rescheduling and better criminal defense attorney practices, appeared to have slowed the series of executions. However, Texas moved ahead with executions in 2018, executing three Death Row inmates by February.

Although executions have slowed in Texas in line with many other states, it continues to put more people to death than nearly every other state in any given year.

Texas has executed almost five times as many people as the state with the second-most executions, Oklahomastated the Death Penalty Information Center.

If you have been charged with a serious offense like a homicide in Texas you should contact an experienced Austin murder defense lawyer at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Death Row Inmate Erick Davila Loses Supreme Court Appeal

By Peek & Toland on December 4, 2017

Texas death row inmate Erik Davila faces execution after losing his appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June, the justices ruled against Davila by 5-4. He now faces execution over the 2008 shooting deaths of a five-year-old girl and her grandmother in Fort Worth.

The justices examined the issue of ineffective legal representation during the June hearing. The question before the justices related to whether ineffective assistance of counsel during state appeals should be treated in the same manner as during an original trial reported the Texas Tribune.

The question has been treated differently by appellate courts throughout the country. However, Justice Clarence Thomas gave the majority opinion at the high court, saying different types of lawyers should not be treated the same. The decision rendered Davila’s case ineligible for consideration at the federal court.

Erick Davila, a death row inmate faces execution

Death row inmate Erck Davila lost his case

Thomas wrote in his opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

“Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state post-conviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default.”

The state of Texas indicted Davila for capital murder stating he killed more than one person during the same transaction. During the trial, the jury was instructed on transferred intent and informed that it would be able to find Davila guilty of murder if it determined that he intended to kill one person but instead killed a different person.

The jury convicted Davila of capital murder. However, during his appeal, his appellate counsel argued that the State of Texas failed to show the necessary intent of a guilty verdict. However, the defense failed to challenge the jury instruction of transferred intent.

Murder is one of the most serious charges you can face in the State of Texas. Texas executes more people than any other state. It’s important to hire an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer if you have been hit with this charge.

See our resources on murder here and call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Standards on Intellectual Disability in Death Row Cases Are Questioned by Supreme Court

By Peek & Toland on March 23, 2017

For years Texas has had a different way of deciding how intellectual disability is defined than much of the rest of the country in death row cases.

That definition has come under critical scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case concerning a death row inmate who is challenging his sentence.

At the end of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case of Bobby Moore. The inmate’s intellect is clearly an issue in the case but there is disagreement between the state and his defense team about whether his intellectual disability is significant enough to avoid capital punishment.

The New York Times reported on the deliberations of the high court. Scott A. Keller, the Texas solicitor general, said the key 2002 Supreme Court decision of Atkins v. Virginia bars the execution of people who are intellectually disabled but leaves it to the individual states to draw up their own standards about who qualifies.

Court questions Texas standard of intellectual disability

Texas standards of intellectual disability in death cases are questioned

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said he feared such an interpretation allows states to screen out defendants and deny them relief.

Moore has languished on Texas’ death row since 1980. He was convicted of the fatal stabbing of a 72-year-old Houston supermarket clerk during a robbery.

His lawyers say there is no doubt that he suffers from an intellectual disability. At the age of 13, he was unable to understand the days of the week, the seasons, and the months of the year, they say.

They claim Texas’ standards of gauging intellectual disability are woefully outdated.

What Atkins v. Virginia Says About Intellectual Disability

In the 2002 case, the U.S. Supreme Court of Atkins v. Virginia set parameters on the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.

The justices stated.

“Those mentally retarded persons who meet the law’s requirements for criminal responsibility should be tried and punished when they commit crimes. Because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses, however, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct. Moreover, their impairments can jeopardize the reliability and fairness of capital proceedings against mentally retarded defendants.”

The Supreme Court appeared skeptical of the way Texas decides who must be spared the death penalty on account of intellectual disability, with several justices indicating that the state’s standards were either too strict or too arbitrary.

Texas executes more people than any other state. In the past, the state has ignored some very powerful arguments from defendants and their legal representatives. Over the last 12 months, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has halted a series of executions.

If you are charged with murder or capital murder in Texas, it’s vital to obtain experienced legal representation. Call our criminal defense lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

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