State News

Prosecutors, legislators challenge NC's racial bias law

Posted February 7, 2011

— As prosecutors launched a legal challenge Monday to a racial bias law that death row inmates have used to try to overturn their sentences, Republican lawmakers are looking at revising or repealing the statute.

Superior Court Judge William Z. Wood in Forsyth County is expected to rule later this week on the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act. Prosecutors contend in court documents that the law is too vague and fails to provide key guidelines and procedures.

State legislators passed the law in 2009, allowing convicts to use statistical evidence to argue bias in their sentencing.

“It cannot be unconstitutional to spend time assuring that our state’s death penalty is carried out fairly and legally,” Ken Rose, an attorney for inmates Errol Moses and Carl Moseley, argued in court. “What’s unconstitutional is to execute people under a discriminatory system. If the (Racial Justice Act) is unconstitutional, then so is our death penalty statute.”

Most of North Carolina's 158 death row inmates have filed a claim under the act, including white inmates convicted of killing white victims. Many of the inmates question the racial makeup of juries that handled their cases.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the law since its passage, and now that they control the General Assembly, they are looking at revising or repealing it.

"We're spending millions of dollars with violent offenders filing frivolous claims," House Speaker Thom Tillis said, adding that he expects a bill to overhaul the Racial Justice Act to be filed in four to six weeks.

"To me, it's a waste of resources. It's unfair. It was called the Racial Justice Act, but in fact, it was unjust," Tillis said. "A white man murdering two or three white people and claiming the only reason why a capital punishment case (was) brought against him is because of his race is an absurd notion."

RAL-Death Penalty (Generic) GOP says death penalty bias law is abused, needs overhaul

Any appeals that are in process under the law would likely be rescinded as part of any overhaul adopted by the General Assembly, Tillis said.

Supporters of the current law want to give it time to play out.

"I think it's premature for the General Assembly to consider a repeal or any kind of amendment or alteration to this," attorney Mark Kleinschmidt said.

All 6 of Kleinschmidt's clients on death row filed claims under the law. He said the bias doesn't necessarily have to do with the defendant's race.

"We're seeking the harshest punishments in cases where the victims are white, and we're not seeking those punishments when the victims are not," he said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said the Racial Justice Act is complicated, and she is waiting for more information before deciding whether it needs to be changed.

"I understand there are a lot of people who are concerned about it, and I'm going to listen to the debate and see the data," Perdue said.

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  • WooHoo2You Feb 8, 2011

    -Interesting that you seem to be a mind reader and able to discern what my heritage is.-gunny462

    When did I claim I knew your race???

  • gunny462 Feb 8, 2011

    "I find it amazing that people (such as yourself) who do nothing but claim how horrible, corrupt, dishonest, etc the system/government/courts are HOWEVER run to their defense when ‘race’ comes up, claiming it to be almost flawless in that manner".

    Interesting that you seem to be a mind reader and able to discern what my heritage is. People (not unlike you) are able to use the race card whenever they feel it is adequate all the while they disavow others the same right. What you fail to see blindly is that they use statistics, which from what I remember is the worst type of info used to make a point. Why? because it can be manipulated easily, as in this law. If this law was specifically created to asist minorities to get a 'fair' trial, fine. But as it states in this report, whites are using it as well. So what's the basis of this law now? Also, there are hundreds of groups out there willing and able to asist them, so why have this law at all?

  • alx Feb 8, 2011

    if the person did the crime... then they should be punished. if there is a dispropotional amout of criminals from one particular race then perhaps instead of being contsantly offended that group should do some house cleaning instead of blaming others

  • bill0 Feb 8, 2011

    "The only question that needs to be asked and answered is did the convicted commit the crime or not. Plain and simple."

    Actually, no, that isn't the only question. That is the first part of the trial. After guilt is established, you start the sentencing portion of the trial.

    That is where the second question comes in. Are people who commit similar crimes receiving similar sentences? If not, then there is a serious problem. The punishment should not depend on the color of the victim or criminal.

    Justice should be blind. If it turns out that race is playing a role in sentencing, then that problem should be fixed. Demanding equal treatment under the law isn't "playing the race card."

  • sillywabbitthepatriot Feb 8, 2011

    "We're seeking the harshest punishments in cases where the victims are white, and we're not seeking those punisments when the victims are not"

    When a black victim is concerned, it is usually black on black crime. Most blacks do not support the death penalty or the harshest punishment, hence the NAACP's involvement with this bill to begin with.

    Repeal this bill.

  • no more - no less Feb 8, 2011

    The only question that needs to be asked and answered is did the convicted commit the crime or not. Plain and simple.

  • ConcernedNCC Feb 8, 2011

    The real problem is why a person is on death row for 10, 20, even 30 years before they're put away. Do it within a year.

  • WooHoo2You Feb 7, 2011

    Statistical evidence, Ok. Here are some statistics for you. If your race commits more crimes than another, yes there should be more of your race in jail. If your race commits more capital offenses than another, yes, there should be more of your race on death row. If your race drives drunk more than another race, yes, there should be more of your race charged with DUI. That is all simple statistics and logic.-ORMA

    True, and if 10 percent of race ‘A’ gets the death penalty then 30 percent of race ‘B’ gets the death penalty for the same crime there might be a problem. (Using examples; like the above poster) That is the question at hand; are the judgments fair and equal...

  • djofraleigh Feb 7, 2011

    Statistically, shouldn't half the inmates and convicted and condemned be female instead of the 90% or so male?

    Look at the ages of convicted criminals at the time of the crime and there is more statistical bias to be found.

    Guess we should be looking at our assumptions. Look at the number of inmates who grew up without a father in the home and a mother at home who was a teen mother the first child. From that, comes the chain and ball of poverty, ignorance, and lack of careers.

  • ORMA Feb 7, 2011

    Statistical evidence, Ok. Here are some statistics for you. If your race commits more crimes than another, yes there should be more of your race in jail. If your race commits more capital offenses than another, yes, there should be more of your race on death row. If your race drives drunk more than another race, yes, there should be more of your race charged with DUI. That is all simple statistics and logic.

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