- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
NC Senate Votes To Repeal Racial Justice Law
- This article was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Acceding to the demands of state prosecutors, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill Monday by a 27-14 vote that will effectively repeal the Racial Justice Act, jeopardizing what had been heralded as a step forward for the criminal justice system. The act, which a coalition effort passed in a Democrat-controlled legislature back in 2009, allows death row inmates to appeal on the grounds that racism played an operative role in their sentencing. The first defendant to make a case under the act, Marcus Robinson, will present his evidence in January.
For Professor James Coleman, Jr., who runs the Duke Law Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, Monday’s repeal effort is just the latest attempt by state prosecutors to overturn a law that they think poses a threat to their offices:
“This week, after their failed attempt to prevent a senior black Superior Court judge from hearing the Racial Justice Act claims filed by inmate Marcus Robinson, all but one of the state’s district attorneys signed a letter asking the General Assembly to repeal the law, immediately. They want to avoid responding to the mountain of evidence indicating they have used peremptory challenges to deny qualified black jurors their constitutional right to serve on capital juries. Rather than defend their conduct in court, they seek to put it beyond the reach of the law.
The district attorneys opposed the Racial Justice Act in the legislature and lost. The district attorneys tried to obstruct the Racial Justice Act in the courts and lost. The district attorneys tried to recuse a judge they viewed as unfavorable and lost. At every turn, the district attorneys delayed implementation of the act.”
In their letter to the North Carolina General Assembly, the 43 district attorneys expressed their opposition to the measure, arguing that it could release more than 25 criminals back onto the streets and that it will clog up the court system with unnecessary and expensive cases.
But it’s tough to see where these criticisms are coming from. The statute clearly states that inmates can only have their sentences commuted from death to life without the possibility of parole, and only two cases have even been granted hearings. All in all, the total cost of the Racial Justice Act so far has cost much less than the amount the state would spend on another execution, estimates Coleman.
The act itself, which allows inmates to make their case through the use of statistical evidence, promised a new approach to dealing with institutionalized racism by avoiding the issue of the prosecutor’s intent.
Darryl Hunt, a black man who served 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, spoke about his experience with the criminal justice system at the NC Senate hearing on the bill yesterday.
“I was one vote away from the death penalty,” he told lawmakers. “One. And I had eleven whites and one black on my jury. If you do not think that race played a factor in my case, in me being arrested, charged, and convicted, then you’re not living here in North Carolina.”
The bill’s fate is now up to Gov. Bev Perdue (D-NC), who praised the Racial Justice Act’s passage back in 2009. She has not given any indication, however, whether or not she plans to veto the legislation. Ken Rose, one of the attorneys representing Marcus Robinson, believes that Perdue’s past support for the law will continue but cautions that the House vote to override the veto will be highly contested.
Given that a defendant in a case with a white victim is more than 2.5 times as likely to receive the death penalty in North Carolina, a veto appears the only just decision.
- Editor's Note: This article was originally published November 29, 2011, at ThinkProgress.org. Photo by the NC Department of Transporation.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Hollywood died last week. No, not that Hollywood, not that Hollywood of a lesser kind--that Hollywood out in La La Land. Rather, it was the real Hollywood, the iconic cherub-cheeked, perpetually smiling man, who cut hair and worked magic over at Murden's Barber Shop in southwest Atlanta, Ga. for the last forty years. Even for some of the legions who know him, 'Charles Allen Lattimore, Sr.' could be the answer to a trivia question on TV's Jeopardy quiz show: 'What is Hollywood's real name?' It wasn't that Hollywood ever went out of his way to conceal his true identity, he wasn't off Read on →
"Old Age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young." --Fred Astaire It’s finally happened to me...I’m now the Biblical threescore and ten years old. I went to bed after a great meal, wonderful evening with my ever-loving wife Jody, some funny conversation, a little mystery on the telly and woke up...well, I didn’t feel any different. I did wake up, though, which is a good thing. Aside from that, I woke up early as usual and as old men are wont to do, didn’t change my technique of putting my right leg first into my shorts, Read on →
She somewhat resembled the retired but not really old men who can’t wait to don their big blue hats and disappear into the basement for long periods to “work on” their elaborate model train sets. Like them, she could easily slip into a fantasy world where objects of interest were always smaller and at times had to be willed to be seen. She could spend hours gathering moss and twigs to build fairy houses and would then sit quietly nearby waiting for occupants. Little did she suspect that if you make them, they don’t necessarily come. And she was nearing forty. Read on →
Above my family homestead in the East Tennessee foothills is an old, abandoned cemetery. I admit I've never seen it, but I think about it often. I imagine the worn stone markers neck deep in leaves in the fall or peeking out of the winter snow like early hyacinths. In my imagination, I never bothered to name these people, much less engage in meaningful character development. I don’t know them in any sense of the word; I just know that they are up there, tucked deeply in an earthy hollow waiting for whatever comes next. I don’t expect anyone comes to vis Read on →