@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Senate votes to repeal Racial Justice Act

Posted April 3, 2013

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

The state Senate voted 33-14 Wednesday to repeal the state's historic Racial Justice Act and restart executions in North Carolina.

The 2009 Racial Justice Act allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences on the grounds of racial bias in the court system. If a judge agreed, the inmate's sentence could be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.

When it passed, the law was the only one of its kind in the nation. Supporters said it would renew public confidence in the capital punishment system. Detractors said it would clog the courts with appeals.  

The original law allowed the use of statistics to prove a pattern of racial bias in jury selection and sentencing. State lawmakers changed that with a major rewrite last year. Senate Bill 306 repeals the remainder of the law.

The measure also allows medical professionals to participate in executions without risk of punishment, requires the state attorney general to notify the Department of Public Safety when a condemned prisoner's appeals are exhausted and requires the attorney general to keep the General Assembly updated on the status of death row appeals.

Sponsor Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, says the bill would end the state's de facto moratorium on executions. Because of lawsuits over its lethal injection protocol and a court fight over whether medical professionals can participate, no one has been executed in North Carolina since 2006.

Goolsby called the Racial Justice Act "an end run around capital punishment." He says repealing it will ensure justice for victims and their families, as well as respect for the decisions of juries that send "cold-blooded deliberative killers" to death row.

Democrats tried and failed twice to remove the section repealing the Racial Justice Act from the rest of the legislation.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said cases commuted under the Racial Justice Act have proven racial bias still pervades the capital punishment system.

“It’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional and it’s repugnant – totally repugnant,” McKissick said. “Since 1999, five people on death row in this state have left death row and were exonerated. We’re not fool-proof.”

The Racial Justice Act "sent a strong message" to prosecutors to avoid striking black jurors on account of race in capital cases, he said.

“We’re all entitled to justice with a jury of our peers hearing the case, and I want to know that one member of that jury looks like me,” he said.  

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt agreed.

"I said when I passed (the Racial Justice Act) I hoped no one found relief under the bill. That would mean we didn’t have a problem. That’s what we all wanted to find. That’s not what we found," said Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.

"We told the courts, 'Look at these cases. See if it’s there,'" he said, "and we found that there is in virtually every case that’s been heard."

"The world is still as safe as it was before the (Racial Justice Act) hearings," he said. "We need to continue to let the courts clean up this mess."

But Goolsby called the Racial Justice Act "bad law," saying that racial bias by prosecutors is already illegal and those convicted of capital crimes already have "multiple avenues of appeal" available to them.

"I keep thinking about the families of the murder victims that I’ve met," Goolsby said.

The measure now goes to the House.

101 Comments

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  • lovelarvae Apr 5, 4:49 p.m.

    “Since 1999, five people on death row in this state have left death row and were exonerated. We’re not fool-proof.”

    I wish all the self-righteous so-called "pro-life" folks would show some concern for innocent adults on death row to at least provide some consistency with their fixation on abortion.

  • goldenosprey Apr 5, 1:15 p.m.

    "Please. Spending your life eating free food and having free shelter is nothing compared to a lethal injection. These people deserve worse, that's what you fail to grasp."ncouterbanks

    Please. Lethal injection is what we do to our own beloved pets when they are too sick or injured to carry on. Do you want to age and die in prison, never knowing freedom or the touch of a woman again? LWOP IS worse. I say let 'em rot. It's cheaper anyway.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 5, 11:22 a.m.

    It's been proven that "significant evidence that NC prosecutors select juries in a racially biased manner", resulting in people receiving harsher sentences purely based on skin color. As a result, prisoners have had their death sentences removed because of this provable racial bias.

    Are people here really saying that we should just ignore this bias? ...that we should just put all these people back on death row?

    So, how long have you been against "equal protection under the law" and the Golden Rule?

  • elkerster Apr 5, 10:14 a.m.

    Samr- "They should have kept parts of the law in place to be able to address possible racial bias in the past AND they should start executions again where there is no claim or evidence of racial bias on the jury's part. The two are not mutually exclusive and can coexist. There is nothing wrong with the state making sure that they have not erred before a person is put to death and there is nothing wrong with the state following the decision of the jury once appeals have been exhausted. It is the "either or" rhetoric that gets to me more than anything."

    Absolutely agree.

  • elkerster Apr 5, 10:12 a.m.

    I'm not sure where I sit on the death penalty but I find it interesting when you have people rush to the statement of that these people should be put down immediately especially when we have had 5 cases were the criminal or "animal" as some of you called it were exonerated. Just something to chew on.

    “Since 1999, five people on death row in this state have left death row and were exonerated. We’re not fool-proof.”

  • stephenfbosen Apr 5, 12:58 a.m.

    Would like to say we should not come in between Government's decision, they know their job properly. We should maintain our faith. http://www.naturalhomerugs.com/

  • That Explains It Apr 4, 6:24 p.m.

    cupofcoffee: "Those of you who think this is a good idea, can you please explain your reasoning?" I suggest you read about 80 or so of the comments prior to yours. That should give you all the reasons you need.

    "The death penalty has been disproportionately applied since the country was founded." The death penalty has been proportionally applied to those doing the crimes. Ignoring criminal behavior of certain cultural/racial groups as a means of adjusting statistics does nothing to benefit either the culture/race nor society at large. The sad truth is that blacks who you say are disproportionally punished are also disproportionately committing crimes against blacks. But good progressive liberals feel that the criminals should be sent back into their communities, necessitating the spiraling of increased crime. The only positive outcome: good white progressive liberals feel better about themselves.

    America is about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 4, 4:47 p.m.

    The purpose of the law is for lawyers to line their pockets and for which it has done a stiller job. I'm against the death penalty which can and should be outlawed.

  • ncouterbanks69 Apr 4, 4:28 p.m.

    "You mean, like a lifetime spent in prison? "Of course you guys on the left do not understand justice."

    Pot, meet kettle."

    Please. Spending your life eating free food and having free shelter is nothing compared to a lethal injection. These people deserve worse, that's what you fail to grasp.

  • cupofcoffee Apr 4, 4:17 p.m.

    Sad day, and to take this vote on the anniversary of the death of Dr. King is despicable. Those of you who think this is a good idea, can you please explain your reasoning? The death penalty has been disproportionately applied since the country was founded. The purpose of the law was to ensure racially equal treatment under the law. That's a bad thing in your eyes?

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