Dems defend Racial Justice Act

Posted November 17, 2011

Republican House and Senate leaders say they haven't yet decided whether they'll take up changes to the Racial Justice Act later this month. 

Today, Democrats and civil rights supporters called on them to leave the law alone. 

District attorneys sent a letter to Senate President Phil Berger recently, citing a list of concerns with the 2009 law. They’re hoping lawmakers will amend it during their session that starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The adjournment resolution would appear to allow the amendment bill, SB9, to be heard. Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution Prosecutors, death penalty opponents wrangle over law

Democrats say the timing of the request is suspect. Prosecutors tried and failed earlier this month to have African-American Judge Greg Weeks removed from a Racial Justice Act case underway in Cumberland County. It’s the first case that’s moving forward under the law.

“They’re afraid of what Judge Weeks is gonna do," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. “He’s hearing a case that’s before the court. To stop him from hearing it, they want to change the law, and they want to change it right away – because unless they do it now, they’re afraid of what the outcome’s gonna be.”

District attorneys want lawmakers to strike the section of the Act that allows inmates to use statewide statistics as proof that the system is racially biased. They say each case should be considered on its own merits.

But supporters of the law say striking that section would effectively gut the Racial Justice Act. They say patterns of discrimination draw a more accurate picture of the system’s ills than prosecutors’ decisions in individual cases.

McKissick said studies show qualified black jurors in North Carolina are more than twice as likely to be stricken from a capital case jury than their white counterparts, and that the death penalty is 2 /12 times more likely to be sought against a black defendant accused of murdering a white victim.

“There are some glaring statistics here that are undeniable,” McKissick said. “Let the judge weigh the merit of the statistics. If they aren’t valid, if they don’t have a basis, then the judge can decide what to do in that case.” 

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, agreed. “We’ve released seven people off Death Row that were innocent. Five of them were black. Is there a problem here? Of course there is.” 

Nesbitt said everyone knows the justice system isn’t perfect. “But you can’t let it sit there and be imperfect. You’ve got to show the people that you’re trying to make it as right as it can be.” Dems defend Racial Justice Act Dems defend Racial Justice Act

And state NAACP president Rev. William Barber noted that death-row exoneree Darryl Hunt, who was at today’s event, would have been dead if the system had moved more quickly. He called the effort to gut the act another example of “a leadership that’s going backward.”

Barber said district attorneys “should uphold the law, instead of waging a campaign to destroy it.”

“Their duty is to seek the truth, not convictions at any cost,” said Barber. 

Watch the uncut press conference at right.



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  • josephlawrence43 Nov 23, 2011

    chevybelair57sd: Thank you--right on target..

  • chevybelair57sd Nov 23, 2011

    Being sentenced due to a persons race even after trial is absurd. With all the appeals in the process, it's unlikly this could happen. The same folks who cry racism everytime cannot be allowed to give indemnity to someone due to race, only politicians have indemnity for their actions LOL

  • Rico Nov 23, 2011

    when will minority persecution end?

  • marktroll Nov 22, 2011

    How do you argue with the fact that all but 5 of 157 current death row inmates have filed cases under it. More than a third are WHITE. In many cases, the inmate, the victim, and the jury were of the same race. In some cases, the inmates pleaded guilty. HOW DOES THIS PART OF THE RJA MAKE SENSE?????????????

  • josephlawrence43 Nov 21, 2011

    well, of course they do..the liberal/leftist/socialists belive that there is no such thing as individual guilt- at least as it applies to the minority community. The only guilt they see is society at large being guilty for all the rapes, murders, etc.,etc. committed by members of the minority. They didn't do nuttin..

  • abylelab -BT- Nov 18, 2011

    if the da's hadn't push for the executions of blacks unnecessarily, they wouldn't have had to have the law in the first place