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Buck v. Davis

United States Supreme Court

February 22, 2017


          Argued October 5, 2016


Petitioner Duane Buck was convicted of capital murder in a Texas court. Under state law, the jury was permitted to impose a death sentence only if it found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck was likely to commit acts of violence in the future. Buck's attorney called a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, to offer his opinion on that issue. Dr. Quijano had been appointed to evaluate Buck by the presiding judge and had prepared a report setting out his conclusions. To determine the likelihood that Buck would act violently in the future, Dr. Quijano had considered a number of statistical factors, including Buck's race. Although Dr. Quijano ultimately concluded that Buck was unlikely to be a future danger, his report also stated that Buck was statistically more likely to act violently because he is black. The report read, in relevant part: "Race. Black: Increased probability." App. 19a. Despite knowing the contents of the report, Buck's counsel called Dr. Quijano to the stand, where he testified that race is a factor "know[n] to predict future dangerousness." Id., at 146a. Dr. Quijano's report was admitted into evidence at the close of his testimony. The prosecution questioned Dr. Quijano about his conclusions on race and violence during cross-examination, and it relied on his testimony in summation. During deliberations, the jury requested and received the expert reports admitted into evidence, including Dr. Quijano's. The jury returned a sentence of death.
Buck contends that his attorney's introduction of this evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. Buck failed to raise this claim in his first state postconviction proceeding. While that proceeding was pending, this Court received Syllabus a petition for certiorari in Saldano v. Texas, 530 U.S. 1212, a case in which Dr. Quijano had testified that the petitioner's Hispanic heritage weighed in favor of a finding of future dangerousness. Texas confessed error on that ground, and this Court vacated the judgment below. Soon afterward, the Texas Attorney General issued a public statement identifying six similar cases in which Dr. Quijano had testified. Buck's was one of them. In the other five cases, the Attorney General confessed error and consented to resentencing. But when Buck filed a second state habeas petition alleging that his attorney had been ineffective in introducing Dr. Quijano's testimony, the State did not confess error, and the court dismissed the petition as an abuse of the writ on the ground that Buck had failed to raise the claim in his first petition.
Buck then sought federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. §2254. The State again declined to confess error, and Buck's ineffective assistance claim was held procedurally defaulted and unreviewable under Colemanv. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722. This Court's later decisions in Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S., modified the rule of Coleman. Had they been decided before Buck filed his federal habeas petition, Buck's claim could have been heard on the merits provided he had demonstrated that (1) state postconviction counsel had been constitutionally ineffective in failing to raise the claim, and (2) the claim had some merit. Following the decision in Trevino, Buck sought to reopen his §2254 case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). To demonstrate the "extraordinary circumstances" required for relief, Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535, Buck cited the change in law effected by Martinez and Trevino, as well as ten other factors, including the introduction of expert testimony linking Buck's race to violence and the State's confession of error in similar cases. The District Court denied relief. Reasoning that "the introduction of any mention of race" during Buck's sentencing was "de minimis, " the court concluded, first, that Buck had failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances; and second, that even if the circumstances were extraordinary, Buck had failed to demonstrate ineffective assistance under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668. Buck sought a certificate of appealability (COA) from the Fifth Circuit to appeal the denial of his Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The Fifth Circuit denied his application, concluding that he had not shown extraordinary circumstances justifying relief from the District Court's judgment.


1. The Fifth Circuit exceeded the limited scope of the COA analysis. The COA statute sets forth a two-step process: an initial determination whether a claim is reasonably debatable, and, if so, an appeal in the normal course. 28 U.S.C. §2253. At the first stage, the only question is whether the applicant has shown that "jurists of reason could disagree with the district court's resolution of his constitutional claims or . . . could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327. Here, the Fifth Circuit phrased its determination in proper terms. But it reached its conclusion only after essentially deciding the case on the merits, repeatedly faulting Buck for having failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. The question for the Court of Appeals was not whether Buck had shown that his case is extraordinary; it was whether jurists of reason could debate that issue. The State points to the Fifth Circuit's thorough consideration of the merits to defend that court's approach, but this hurts rather than helps its case. Pp. 12-15.
2. Buck has demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland. Pp. 15-20.
(a) To satisfy Strickland, a defendant must first show that counsel performed deficiently. 466 U.S., at 687. Buck's trial counsel knew that Dr. Quijano's report reflected the view that Buck's race predisposed him to violent conduct and that the principal point of dispute during the penalty phase was Buck's future dangerousness. Counsel nevertheless called Dr. Quijano to the stand, specifically elicited testimony about the connection between race and violence, and put Dr. Quijano's report into evidence. No competent defense attorney would introduce evidence that his client is liable to be a future danger because of his race. Pp. 15-17.
(b) Strickland further requires a defendant to demonstrate prejudice-"a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." 466 U.S., at 694. It is reasonably probable that without Dr. Quijano's testimony on race and violence, at least one juror would have harbored a reasonable doubt on the question of Buck's future dangerousness. This issue required the jury to make a predictive judgment inevitably entailing a degree of speculation. But Buck's race was not subject to speculation, and according to Dr. Quijano, that immutable characteristic carried with it an increased probability of future violence. Dr. Quijano's testimony appealed to a powerful racial stereotype and might well have been valued by jurors as the opinion of a medical expert bearing the court's imprimatur. For these reasons, the District Court's conclusion that any mention of race during the penalty phase was de minimis is rejected. So is the State's argument that Buck was not prejudiced by Dr. Quijano's testimony because it was introduced by his own counsel, rather than the prosecution. Jurors understand that prosecutors seek convictions and may reasonably be expected to evaluate the government's evidence in light of its motivations. When damaging evidence is introduced by a defendant's own lawyer, it is in the nature of an admission against interest, more likely to be taken at face value. Pp. 17-20. 3. The District Court's denial of Buck's Rule 60(b)(6) motion was an abuse of discretion. Pp. 20-26.
(a) Relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is available only in "extraordinary circumstances." Gonzalez, 545 U.S., at 535. Determining whether such circumstances are present may include consideration of a wide range of factors, including "the risk of injustice to the parties" and "the risk of undermining the public's confidence in the judicial process." Liljebergv. Health Services Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 863-864. The District Court's denial of Buck's motion rested largely on its determination that race played only a de minimis role in his sentencing. But there is a reasonable probability that Buck was sentenced to death in part because of his race. This is a disturbing departure from the basic premise that our criminal law punishes people for what they do, not who they are. That it concerned race amplifies the problem. Relying on race to impose a criminal sanction "poisons public confidence" in the judicial process, Davis v. Ayala, 576 U.S.,, a concern that supports Rule 60(b)(6) relief. The extraordinary nature of this case is confirmed by the remarkable steps the State itself took in response to Dr. Quijano's testimony in other cases. Although the State attempts to justify its decision to treat Buck differently from the other five defendants identified in the Attorney General's public statement, its explanations for distinguishing Buck's case from Saldano have nothing to do with the Attorney General's stated reasons for confessing error in that case. Pp. 20-24.
(b) Unless Martinez and Trevino, rather than Coleman, would govern Buck's case were it reopened, his claim would remain unreviewable and Rule 60(b)(6) relief would be inappropriate. The State argues that Martinez and Trevino would not govern Buck's case because they announced a "new rule" under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, that does not apply retroactively to cases dike Buck's) on collateral review. This argument, however, has been waived: the State failed to advance it in District Court, before the Fifth Circuit, or in its brief in opposition to Buck's petition for certiorari. Pp. 24-26.

623 Fed.Appx. 668, reversed and remanded.

          ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, GlNSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined.


          Roberts, Chief Justice

         A Texas jury convicted petitioner Duane Buck of capital murder. Under state law, the jury could impose a death sentence only if it found that Buck was likely to commit acts of violence in the future. Buck's attorney called a psychologist to offer his opinion on that issue. The psychologist testified that Buck probably would not engage in violent conduct. But he also stated that one of the factors pertinent in assessing a person's propensity for violence was his race, and that Buck was statistically more likely to act violently because he is black. The jury sentenced Buck to death.

         Buck contends that his attorney's introduction of this evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. This claim has never been heard on the merits in any court, because the attorney who represented Buck in his first state postconviction proceeding failed to raise it. In 2006, a Federal District Opinion of the Court Court relied on that failure-properly, under then-governing law-to hold that Buck's claim was procedurally defaulted and unreviewable.

         In 2014, Buck sought to reopen that 2006 judgment by filing a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). He argued that this Court's decisions in Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. (2013), had changed the law in a way that provided an excuse for his procedural default, permitting him to litigate his claim on the merits. In addition to this change in the law, Buck's motion identified ten other factors that, he said, constituted the "extraordinary circumstances" required to justify reopening the 2006 judgment under the Rule. See Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005).

         The District Court below denied the motion, and the Fifth Circuit declined to issue the certificate of appealability (COA) requested by Buck to appeal that decision. We granted certiorari, and now reverse.



         On the morning of July 30, 1995, Duane Buck arrived at the home of his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner. He was carrying a rifle and a shotgun. Buck entered the home, shot Phyllis Taylor, his stepsister, and then shot Gardner's friend Kenneth Butler. Gardner fled the house, and Buck followed. So did Gardner's young children. While Gardner's son and daughter begged for their mother's life, Buck shot Gardner in the chest. Gardner and Butler died of their wounds. Taylor survived.

         Police officers arrived soon after the shooting and placed Buck under arrest. An officer would later testify that Buck was laughing at the scene. He remained "happy" and "upbeat" as he was driven to the police station, "[s]miling and laughing" in the back of the patrol car. App. 134a-135a, 252a.

         Buck was tried for capital murder, and the jury convicted. During the penalty phase of the trial, the jury was charged with deciding two issues. The first was what the parties term the "future dangerousness" question. At the time of Buck's trial, a Texas jury could impose the death penalty only if it found-unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt-"a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 37.071, §2(b)(1) (Vernon 1998). The second issue, to be reached only if the jury found Buck likely to be a future danger, was whether mitigating circumstances nevertheless warranted a sentence of life imprisonment instead of death. See §2(e).

         The parties focused principally on the first question. The State called witnesses who emphasized the brutality of Buck's crime and his evident lack of remorse in its aftermath. The State also called another former girlfriend, Vivian Jackson. She testified that, during their relationship, Buck had routinely hit her and had twice pointed a gun at her. Finally, the State introduced evidence of Buck's criminal history, including convictions for delivery of cocaine and unlawfully carrying a weapon. App. 125a-127a, 185a.

         Defense counsel answered with a series of lay witnesses, including Buck's father and stepmother, who testified that they had never known him to be violent. Counsel also called two psychologists to testify as experts. The first, Dr. Patrick Lawrence, observed that Buck had previously served time in prison and had been held in minimum custody. From this he concluded that Buck "did not present any problems in the prison setting." Record in No. 4:04-cv-03965 (SD Tex.), Doc. 5-116, pp. 12-13. Dr. Lawrence further testified that murders within the Texas penal system tend to be gang related (there was no evidence Buck had ever been a member of a gang) and that Buck's offense had been a "crime of passion" occurring within the context of a romantic relationship. Id., at 4, 19, 21. Based on these considerations, Dr. Lawrence determined that Buck was unlikely to be a danger if he were sentenced to life in prison. Id., at 20-21.

         Buck's second expert, Dr. Walter Quijano, had been appointed by the presiding judge to conduct a psychological evaluation. Dr. Quijano had met with Buck in prison prior to trial and shared a report of his findings with defense counsel.

         Like Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Quijano thought it significant that Buck's prior acts of violence had arisen from romantic relationships with women; Buck, of course, would not form any such relationships while incarcerated. And Dr. Quijano likewise considered Buck's behavioral record in prison a good indicator that future violence was unlikely. App. 36a, 39a-40a.

         But there was more to the report. In determining whether Buck was likely to pose a danger in the future, Dr. Quijano considered seven "statistical factors." The fourth factor was "race." His report read, in relevant part: "4. Race. Black: Increased probability. There is an over-representation of Blacks among the violent offenders." Id., at 19a.

         Despite knowing Dr. Quijano's view that Buck's race was competent evidence of an increased probability of future violence, defense counsel called Dr. Quijano to the stand and asked him to discuss the "statistical factors" he had "looked at in regard to this case." Id., at 145a-146a. Dr. Quijano responded that certain factors were "know[n] to predict future dangerousness" and, consistent with his report, identified race as one of them. Id., at 146a. "It's a sad commentary, " he testified, "that minorities, Hispanics and black people, are over represented in the Criminal Justice System." Ibid. Through further questioning, counsel elicited testimony concerning factors Dr. Quijano thought favorable to Buck, as well as his ultimate opinion that Buck was unlikely to pose a danger in the future. At the close of Dr. Quijano's testimony, his report was admitted into evidence. Id., at 150a-152a.

         After opening cross-examination with a series of general questions, the prosecutor likewise turned to the report. She asked first about the statistical factors of past crimes and age, then questioned Dr. Quijano about the roles of sex and race: "You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that's just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?" Id., at 170a. Dr. Quijano replied, "Yes." Ibid.

         During closing arguments, defense counsel emphasized that Buck had proved to be "controllable in the prison population, " and that his crime was one of "jealousy, . . . passion and emotion" unlikely to be repeated in jail. Id., at 189a-191a. The State stressed the crime's brutal nature and Buck's lack of remorse, along with the inability of Buck's own experts to guarantee that he would not act violently in the future-a point it supported by reference to Dr. Quijano's testimony. See id., at 198a-199a ("You heard from Dr. Quijano, . . . who told you that . . . the probability did exist that [Buck] would be a continuing threat to society.").

         The jury deliberated over the course of two days. During that time it sent out four notes, one of which requested the "psychology reports" that had been admitted into evidence. Id., at 209a. These reports-including Dr. Quijano's-were provided. The jury returned a sentence of death.


         Buck's conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Buck v. State, No. 72, 810 (Tex. Crim. App., Apr. 28, 1999). His case then entered a labyrinth of state and federal collateral review, where it has wandered for the better part of two decades.

         Buck filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Texas state court in 1999. The four claims advanced in his petition, however, were all frivolous or noncognizable. See Ex parte Buck, No. 699684-A (Dist. Ct. Harris Cty., Tex., July 11, 2003), pp. 6-7. The petition failed to mention defense counsel's introduction of expert testimony that Buck's race increased his propensity for violence.

         But Dr. Quijano had testified in other cases, too, and in 1999, while Buck's first habeas petition was pending, one of those cases reached this Court. The petitioner, Victor Hugo Saldano, argued that his death sentence had been tainted by Dr. Quijano's testimony that Saldano's Hispanic heritage "was a factor weighing in the favor of future dangerousness." App. 302a. Texas confessed error on that ground and asked this Court to grant Saldano's petition for certiorari, vacate the state court judgment, and remand the case. In June 2000, the Court did so. Saldano v.Texas, 530 U.S. 1212.

         Within days, the Texas Attorney General, John Cornyn, issued a public statement concerning the cases in which Dr. Quijano had testified. The statement affirmed that "it is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system." App. 213a. In keeping with that principle, the Attorney General explained that his office had conducted a "thorough audit" and "identified eight more cases in which testimony was offered by Dr. Quijano that race should be a factor for the jury to consider in making its determination about the sentence in a capital murder trial." Ibid. Six of those cases were "similar to that of Victor Hugo Saldano"; in those cases, letters had been sent to counsel apprising them of the Attorney General's findings. Id., at 213a-214a. The statement closed by identifying the defendants in those six cases. Buck was one of them. Id., at 215a-217a. By the close of 2002, the Attorney General had confessed error, waived any available procedural defenses, and consented to resentencing in the cases of five of those six defendants. See Alba v. Johnson, 232 F.3d 208 (CA5 2000) (Table); Memorandum and Order in Blue v. Johnson, No. 4:99-cv-00350 (SD Tex.), pp. 15-17; Order in Garcia v. Johnson, No. l:99-cv-00134 (ED Tex.), p. 1; Order in Broxton v. Johnson, No. 4:00-cv-01034 (SD Tex.), pp. 10-11; Final Judgment in Gonzales v. Cockrell, No. 7:99-cv-00072 (WD Tex.), p. 1.

         Not, however, in Buck's. In 2002, Buck's attorney filed a new state habeas petition alleging that trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by introducing Dr. Quijano's testimony. The State was not represented by the Attorney General in this proceeding-the Texas Attorney General represents state respondents in federal habeas cases, but not state habeas cases-and it did not confess error. Because Buck's petition was successive, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed it as an abuse of the writ. Exparte Buck, Nos. 57, 004-01, 57, 004-02 (Tex. Crim. App., Oct. 15, 2003) (per curiam).

         Buck turned to the federal courts. He filed a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254 in October 2004, by which time Attorney General Cornyn had left office. See Buck v. Dretke, 2006 WL 8411481, *2 (SD Tex., July 24, 2006). Buck sought relief on the ground that trial counsel's introduction of Dr. Quijano's testimony was constitutionally ineffective. The State responded that the state court had dismissed Buck's ineffective assistance claim because Buck had failed to press it in his first petition, raising it for the first time in a procedurally improper second petition. The State argued that such reliance on an established state rule of procedure was an adequate and independent state ground precluding federal review. Texas acknowledged that it had waived similar procedural defenses in Saldano's case. But it argued that Buck's case was different because "[i]n Saldano's case Dr. Quijano testified for the State"; in Buck's, "it was Buck who called Dr. Quijano to testify." Answer and Motion for Summary Judgment in No. 4:04-cv-03965 (SD Tex.), p. 20.

         Buck countered that, notwithstanding his procedural default, the District Court should reach the merits of his claim because a failure to do so would result in a miscarriage of justice. Buck did not argue that his default should be excused on a showing of "cause" and "prejudice"-that is, cause for the default, and prejudice from the denial of a federal right. And for good reason: At the time Buck filed his §2254 petition, our decision in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 752-753 (1991), made clear that an attorney's failure to raise an ineffective assistance claim during state postconviction review could not constitute cause. The District Court rejected Buck's miscarriage of justice argument and held that, because of his procedural default, his ineffective assistance claim was unreviewable. Buck v. Dretke, 2006 WL 8411481, at *8. Buck unsuccessfully sought review of the District Court's ruling. See Buck v. Thaler, 345 Fed.Appx. 923 (CA5 2009) (per curiam) (denying application for a COA), cert, denied, 559 U.S. 1072 (2010).

         In 2011, Buck sought to reopen his case, arguing that the prosecution had violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses by asking Dr. Quijano about the relationship between race and future violence on cross-examination and referring to his testimony during summation. Buck also argued that the State's decision to treat him differently from the other defendants affected by Dr. Quijano's testimony justified relieving him of the District Court's adverse judgment. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, see Buck v. Thaler, 452 Fed.Appx. 423, 427-428 (CA5 2011) (per curiam), and we denied certiorari, Buck v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 1022 (2011). Buck, still barred by Coleman from avoiding the consequences of his procedural default, did not pursue his ineffective assistance claim.


         In 2012, this Court "modif[ied] the unqualified statement in Coleman that an attorney's ignorance or inadvertence in a postconviction proceeding does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default." Martinez, 566 U.S., at 9. We held that when a state formally limits the adjudication of claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to collateral review, a prisoner may establish cause for procedural default if (1) "the state courts did not appoint counsel in the initial-review collateral proceeding, " or "appointed counsel in [that] proceeding . . . was ineffective under the standards of Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668 ...

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