Opinion

Granting Duane Buck A Fresh Sentencing Hearing Is The Conservative Thing To Do

Marc Hyden R Street Institute

Duane Buck is sitting on Texas’ death row because he was convicted of murder in 1997, but unfortunately, simply being sentenced to death in the Lone Star State isn’t altogether newsworthy. However, the manner in which Buck was condemned has generated public outcry among evangelicals and conservatives alike and for good reason.

Buck’s guilt is not in doubt, and he would be the first to admit his crime. In fact, he’s asked for forgiveness for his transgressions and even exhibited sincere remorse for them. However, his repentance is not the crux of the controversy. Instead, it’s the fact that during the sentencing phase of his trial, Buck’s own lawyers introduced an expert witness who testified that males and African Americans are both more likely to be a prospective threat. In Texas, juries must agree that defendants pose a future danger in order to impose a death sentence. The prosecution reiterated and relied upon the testimony during cross-examination and the closing argument to influence the jury to approve a death sentence. Considering that as a black male, Buck had two strikes against him, it comes as no surprise that the jury accepted the testimony, found him to be a future danger, and sentenced him to die.

Forget for a moment that since Buck’s crime, he has become a Christian, leads a prison Bible group called Christian Brothers, and has turned his life around. Forget that all of these circumstances seriously undermine the state’s assertion that Buck poses the kind of future danger that requires extermination. Also forget whether or not you even support the death penalty. The bottom line is that Buck’s case is about justice and being afforded equal opportunity under the law.

It is easy to see the dangerous implications of a program that metes out death and can be swayed based upon uncontrollable attributes like race and sex. In fact, after Buck’s trial, John Cornyn, who was Texas’ Attorney General at the time, admitted that the expert testimony was inappropriate. Cornyn found seven cases, including Buck’s, where such statements were presented, and he promised to address these instances. Six of those seven have since received new sentencing hearings, but Buck is the only person who hasn’t been granted an unbiased resentencing hearing.

Conservatives have many reasons to demand a new sentencing hearing for Buck. Many of those on the political right often call for equal opportunities rather than equal results, but Buck is still awaiting his equal opportunity. Six cases similar to Buck’s have been afforded fresh hearings whereas Buck hasn’t and, as a result, he currently awaits his execution. Being granted a fair trial isn’t a notion concocted by bleeding heart liberals. It is central to conservatism. It’s meant to protect Americans from injustice and the government, and given the circumstances regarding Buck’s case, a new hearing is easily warranted.

Conservatives also believe in the rule of law, personal responsibility for actions, and that for every action there ought to be an appropriate and just reaction. These beliefs, in addition to Texas’ requirement to prove future dangerousness, should necessitate a new hearing for Buck. He deserves to be sentenced based on nothing more than his own merits and the facts specific to his case. A death sentence based, in any way, on the perception that an entire race or sex are more prone to violence ignores individual responsibility and instead assigns culpability based upon a distorted view of crime and demographics. Imagine if coming from a Christian family or simply being a female could be exploited and used as a contributing factor to secure a death sentence. That would rightfully provoke outrage because there is no causal relationship between an individual’s religion, sex, or race and crime. Consequently, Buck cannot be held accountable for innate attributes, including being born a black male, but he can be properly judged and held responsible for his actions. However, he should receive a new and unbiased trial to be properly sentenced.

Buck’s case is not about whether one supports or opposes the death penalty. It is about justice, fairness, and being judged based on actions, not inborn traits. Buck’s attorneys have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they aren’t asking for favors or special treatment. They are simply requesting that Buck be given a new sentencing trial so that a jury can fairly determine whether he deserves to be executed or serve a sentence of life without the chance of release. Like it or not, the Supreme Court requires a fair sentencing trial and Texas mandates that individuals’ future dangerousness be proven before securing a death sentence. With all things considered, Buck should be granted a fair resentencing hearing.

Marc Hyden is a national advocacy coordinator with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Previously, Hyden was a campaign field representative with the National Rifle Association in Florida, a Republican congressional campaign manager in North Carolina, and as a legislative aide in the state of Georgia.