State News

Judge: NC's racial bias law is constitutional

Posted February 10, 2011 1:37 p.m. EST
Updated February 10, 2011 4:57 p.m. EST

— A judge ruled Thursday to uphold North Carolina's law allowing death row inmates to appeal their sentences based on claims of racial bias.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge William Wood rejected arguments from prosecutors that the 2009 law was too vague, according to attorney Ken Rose, who represents one of two men whose cases were at issue before the judge.

The case stemmed from racial bias challenges filed by death row inmates Errol Moses and Carl Moseley. Moses, who is black, was convicted of killing two black men while Moseley, who is white, was convicted of killing two white women.

Prosecutors say most of North Carolina's 158 death row inmates are trying to use the law to overturn their sentences, including what they contend are absurd challenges from white inmates convicted of killing white victims.

The Forsyth County case was the first, and so far only, legal challenge to the law. The proceedings were closely followed around the state, with some prosecutors from other districts attending court sessions in Winston-Salem this week to listen to arguments in the case.

Rose said Wood's ruling bolsters what attorneys for the inmates have argued all along. "It's very significant," he said.

Tye Hunter, executive director of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which has coordinated efforts to file cases on behalf of inmates under the new law, said Thursday the ruling was not a surprise.

"I thought the state's arguments were borderline frivolous," he said. "As legal arguments, I thought they were very weak."

Calls to Forsyth County prosecutor David Hall were not immediately returned Thursday.