@NCCapitol

NC GOP seeks sharp limits to racial justice law

Posted June 6, 2012

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

— North Carolina lawmakers presented legislation Wednesday to overhaul the Racial Justice Act, bidding to stop convicted killers from using certain provisions of the landmark act in a bid to show racial bias influenced their death sentences.

A state House panel on Wednesday narrowly cleared a bill that would strip away much of the act, which passed the legislature in 2009 when it was under Democratic control. Kentucky is the only state with a similar law.

The state Senate hasn't yet taken up the overhaul.

Republicans who took over the General Assembly last year have sought to void the Racial Justice Act, which allows death row inmates to use statistics and other evidence to persuade a judge that bias influenced their sentences. Successful cases convert their sentence into a life term without parole. More than 150 condemned killers, nearly all of the state's Death Row, have filed for a review of their cases under the act.

GOP lawmakers have failed to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto and are now trying to sharply limit what opponents complain was a backdoor effort to end the death penalty.

"We have 155 people who claim – practically everyone on death row claims – the only reason they're there is because of their race. That's broken," House Majority Leader Paul Stam said. "The General Assembly has agreed that the correct punishment for first-degree murder is death, or at the discretion of the jury, life without parole."

The existing state law allows judges to consider statistical analysis of cases showing race must have been a factor in prosecution decisions, even if no one testifies bias played a role in a specific case. Such statistical analysis is "completely contrary to concepts of Western justice that we consider each case on its own," Stam said.

In the first case under the law in which a judge considered the evidence, Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks ruled in April that condemned killer Marcus Robinson's 1991 trial was so tainted by the racially influenced decisions of Cumberland County prosecutors that he should be removed from death row.

Robinson is a black man convicted of killing a white teenager. He was nearly executed in 2007, but a judge blocked it.

Prosecutors said they plan to appeal the sentencing decision.

Weeks said he found highly reliable a study by two Michigan State University law professors that compared death penalty cases across North Carolina over a 20-year period. Their research said prosecutors eliminated black jurors more than twice as often as white jurors and that a defendant is nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white.

Prosecutors hate the thought that a statistical study blending results from across the state taints them with having racial motivations, said Peg Dorer, executive director of the of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys

"The fact that Judge Weeks found that all prosecutors have intentionally used racial bias is repugnant," she said. "District attorneys have expressed a lot of concern, for instance that the Wake County DA is being compared to statistics from the western part of the state and being held accountable."

Tye Hunter, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham and one of Robinson's attorneys, said the changes would prevent inmates from considering the Michigan State study's findings.

"What you're doing is deciding, we have a 20-year history of intentional discrimination in jury selection in capital cases (and) let's turn our backs away and make it so that nobody else can litigate that. That's the answer?" Hunter said.

The law's supporters said its aim is removing racial discrimination from the criminal justice system.

"I was born and raised in North Carolina, and I can say with certainty that there was and remains racism in my home state" that shows up in criminal cases, said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake.

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  • ConservativeVoter Jun 7, 2012

    "ConservativeVoter not when I was there , they brought in roughly a third...the others were held in what I like to call the "Holding Pen" - LambeauSouth"

    I think in my case, both times they were able to select a jury from the first group of victims.

  • LambeauSouth Jun 7, 2012

    "conserative, did you ask the DA? Highly doubt they would tell you or the Defense Lawyer would tell you the reasons why, also you sat through every jury interview...cmon - LambeauSouth"

    In Wake County, they bring the entire jury pool into the court room.

    You sit through the interviews until you're selected or your discarded.

    ConservativeVoter
    not when I was there , they brought in roughly a third...the others were held in what I like to call the "Holding Pen"

  • LambeauSouth Jun 7, 2012

    Most of the polls, most are done by Obama's Mainstream Media supporters, show it a virtual tie between Obama and Romney with a few showing Romney ahead.

    ConservativeVoter
    what no mention of the "Lamestream media" too funny, your wool is showing ....sheep

  • ConservativeVoter Jun 7, 2012

    "Don't be a hypocrite. You have a short memory. In both the 2008 and 2010 elections, anybody who opposed Obama or his agenda because they didn't like his socialist and marxist policies was labeled a racist in an attempt to shame them into silence. and yet the Exit polls in Wisc recall of a GOP Gov. showed and over-wellming support for the POTUS...HMMMMMMM - LambeauSouth"

    Wisconsin usually votes Democrat in the Presidential elections. No surprise.

    Most of the polls, most are done by Obama's Mainstream Media supporters, show it a virtual tie between Obama and Romney with a few showing Romney ahead.

  • ConservativeVoter Jun 7, 2012

    "conserative, did you ask the DA? Highly doubt they would tell you or the Defense Lawyer would tell you the reasons why, also you sat through every jury interview...cmon - LambeauSouth"

    In Wake County, they bring the entire jury pool into the court room.

    You sit through the interviews until you're selected or your discarded.

  • Ken D. Jun 7, 2012

    "anybody who opposed Obama or his agenda because they didn't like his socialist and marxist policies was labeled a racist in an attempt to shame them into silence."

    I could buy that if Obama had any socialist or marxist policies. But in my experience, the words "socialist" and "marxist" have been code words or surrogates for "black" (except black was spelled beginning with an "n".) It has always been more politically correct for the right to label a black man as a socialist, communist or marxist - it's easier to look yourself in the mirror that way.

  • cwood3 Jun 7, 2012

    Thank you BIGALL, you made my point exactly. The self righeous name calling is you perfect spot. Piene2-you helped prove my point as well.

    I appreciate you libs when you help make my point.

    SAVE NC AND AMERICA!!! Elect Pat and Mitt!!!

  • LambeauSouth Jun 7, 2012

    Don't be a hypocrite. You have a short memory. In both the 2008 and 2010 elections, anybody who opposed Obama or his agenda because they didn't like his socialist and marxist policies was labeled a racist in an attempt to shame them into silence.
    and yet the Exit polls in Wisc recall of a GOP Gov. showed and over-wellming support for the POTUS...HMMMMMMM

  • LambeauSouth Jun 7, 2012

    jocogrl
    easier to follow then lead

  • LambeauSouth Jun 7, 2012

    Based on polls for the 2012 election, I think the race card is losing it's political power.

    ConservativeVoter
    nope, the Neo-cons are just getting better at the lies and distortions...........

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