Saldano v. Texas

530 U.S. 1212, 120 S. Ct. 2214, 147 L. Ed. 2d 246 (2000)

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Saldano v. Texas

United States Supreme Court
530 U.S. 1212, 120 S. Ct. 2214, 147 L. Ed. 2d 246 (2000)


[Editor’s Note: The facts are taken from the Texas solicitor general’s brief submitted in response to Saldano’s petition for writ of certiorari.] In 1996 Victor Hugo Saldano (defendant) and an accomplice killed a man named Paul King. The murder was completely random, and Saldano did not know King. Before Saldano’s trial, he confessed to shooting King four times, including a shot to the head, to be certain that King was dead. Saldano stated that he did not feel anything during the murder. During the trial’s penalty phase, the jury was instructed to determine the likelihood that Saldano would commit violent acts in the future, further endangering society. The jury considered Saldano’s lack of remorse, his fairly young age, the randomness of his crime, and his prior criminal conduct leading up to King’s murder. This evidence was sufficient to warrant the jury’s determination of Saldano’s future dangerousness. However, Texas also called a witness who testified that a defendant’s race was one of 24 factors to be considered in assessing a defendant’s future dangerousness. The witness testified regarding the overrepresentation of Hispanics and African Americans in prisons and acknowledged that this overpopulation could be attributable to factors other than race. Yet the witness testified that Saldano, being from Argentina, was Hispanic, and that his race weighed in favor of a finding of his future dangerousness. Rather than objecting to testimony and exhibits indicating that race should be considered, Saldano’s attorney instead chose to challenge whether the data was reliable and whether Saldano was Hispanic. During closing arguments, Texas instructed the jury to use the witness’s 24 factors, which included race. The jury found that Saldano was a future danger and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Saldano’s conviction. Saldano petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review because his attorney had failed to object to the testimony that race should be used in assessing his future dangerousness. Amazingly, the Texas solicitor general confessed to error, writing that the use of race as a factor in determining whether a defendant represented a future danger to society hindered the fairness and integrity of the judicial process. Although the solicitor general thought there was sufficient evidence to justify the jury’s finding that Saldano represented a future danger, the solicitor general believed the use of race was unconstitutional. The solicitor general asked the Supreme Court to grant Saldano’s petition, vacate Saldano’s sentence, and remand for a new hearing on sentencing at which Saldano’s race would not be considered.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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