State News

Perdue signs Racial Justice Act

Posted August 11, 2009

— Gov. Bev Perdue signed a bill into law Tuesday that prohibits race to determine whether someone faces the death penalty.

The General Assembly passed the North Carolina Racial Justice Act last week. That makes North Carolina the second state in the country that allows statistical evidence to establish racial bias as behind prosecutors seeking or jurors rendering the death penalty.

Kentucky is the other state.

"I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly,” Perdue said in a news release. “The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state’s harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals – the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”

The Senate voted 25-18 for a measure the NAACP and other advocates said was needed in a state that in less than three years has released three black men from prison who had been on death row.

"The need for this is critical and self-evident," Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, the bill's primary sponsor.

In one case cited by supporters, then-Gov. Mike Easley commuted the death sentence of Robert Bacon Jr. to life in prison in 2001. An all-white jury had sentenced him to death for stabbing his lover's husband to death. The woman, who is white and who lured her husband to the spot where he was killed, avoided a death sentence and has since been paroled.

The measure would allow judges to consider whether statistical data show race was a key factor in putting a defendant on trial for his life or receiving a death penalty. A judge who agrees with the evidence could limit a sentence to life in prison without parole.

District attorneys, sheriffs and victims advocates said the measure would make death penalty prosecutions too difficult. North Carolina has not had an execution in nearly three years.

For murder victims and their families, the bill "represents something ... that will end up reopening a lot of old wounds that were still waiting for complete closure," said Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. "This also represents a significant departure from the jurisprudence that we have seen in North Carolina and the United States that says cases are to be decided by the facts of the case."

Since the state's last execution in August 2006, the number of prosecutors winning death penalty convictions has nearly come to a halt and public support for executions has waned.

Just one convict was sent to death row last year and five people have been acquitted of the charges that initially placed them on death row since 2000. Of the 59 capital convicts who had their cases retried this decade, only two were again sentenced to death.

A November 2005 poll from Elon University found that 64 percent of the state's adults supported capital punishment. The same poll found this March that 58 percent supported the death penalty while 28 percent opposed it. Less than half said this year that the death penalty was the most appropriate punishment for first-degree murder.

The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys opposed the legislation. Forsyth County District Attorney Thomas Keith said lawmakers did not discuss that any local Superior Count judge's ruling finding a history of racial discrimination could lead other judges to apply the precedent statewide.

"The ultimate goal is to give an additional protection," for convicted murderers, Keith said.

Death row defendants would have one year to file a claim of racial bias in their death sentence.

162 Comments

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  • finwearer Aug 12, 3:48 p.m.

    ya think ol Bev is a one-term Gov?

  • SWEET-N-SOUR Aug 12, 2:17 p.m.

    This should not be about white or black or any other race. It should be about guilty or not guilty.

  • concerncitizen Aug 12, 1:18 p.m.

    Governor is this some misguided attempt to repay Blacks for voting for you? In your heart of hearts do you really thing this law is a good idea?

    In all my life the vote I cast for you gives me the most concern! I mean right back to my vote for the home coming queen in high school!



    Death row inmates have far to many avenues of appeals as it stands! Now you've added one more! If, as some have said, is an attempt to do away with the death penalty then this is a poor move! If i had the chance I would do away with the death penalty. If you want to do away with the death penalty, stand up and say so! You have nothing to lose! At this pace you're chances for a second term are get smaller and smaller!

  • concerncitizen Aug 12, 12:45 p.m.

    trainloadr, the real answer! Thanks!

  • ladyblue Aug 11, 7:43 p.m.

    so I guess you're saying that the death penalty will only be given to whites now??? So if a black man/woman kills 5 children he can't get the death penalty but a white can because enough of them haven't been electrocuted yet. Just what are you saying ms perdue.......sounds racist to me..............

  • nufsaid Aug 11, 7:06 p.m.

    How could anyone oppose a "Racial Justice Act" bill. The bill to mandate term limits should be named the "Friends of Kittens and Puppies" act.

  • OpenM1nd Aug 11, 6:44 p.m.

    Who gets the death penalty versus who doesn't has more to do with the amount of money spent on attorney fees than does his or her race. For example, consider as a statistic the number of individuals on North Carolina's death row who had a public defender versus the number who had hired an expensive attorney.

  • 3potato4 Aug 11, 4:26 p.m.

    Maydaymanny, I couldn't agree with you more.

  • maydaymanny Aug 11, 4:11 p.m.

    I am sorry for all the victims that have been maimed, killed, slaughtered, raped, beaten, stabbed so many times often bodies are unrecognizable. They did not care what color their killer was, they just wanted them to stop so they could live a life. Please begin thinking of the victims...please NC. Bev is by far the worst governor I have ever seen. Please NC, get rid of her and this insanely liberal legislature as soon as possible.

  • Harrison Bergeron Aug 11, 3:56 p.m.

    "...please cite your source for this information." -gandalla

    My source is the original UNC study (Unah, Boger 2001). Page 29, Table 5 lists their breakdown for "death odds multiplier" for 36 factors.

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