- 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
Anything characterized by high energy, originality, humor and intelligence is bound to get my attention. I was at an annual fund-raising party for an alternative art center called Nexus in about 1986. Touring the studios I kept being distracted from the visual art by some very interesting Rock 'n Roll. I wasn't the only one. A large segment of the crowd was gathered around the Swimming Pool Qs in the courtyard. Once in their vicinity I was there for as long as they would play. In any field of endeavor certain efforts stand out and the Qs were (are) definitely one Read on →
Last Thursday, just before I took my daily two-mile run/walk hunger struck. A few bites of watermelon did the trick. When I bit into that cold sweet watermelon a flood of summer memories rushed in. I recalled the great tastes of summer and with those memories came warm images of youth in the Georgia countryside. I saw stacks of dark green, striped watermelons, red, ripe tomatoes, and heard the beautiful grinding of a hand-cranked ice cream churn. Recalling the great tastes of summer I thought will make a good column. I created a document and titled it “The Tastes of Summer.” I’m Read on →
U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey isn’t the first nationally acclaimed wordsmith to make her home in Decatur, Ga. Between 1892 and 1916, Charles W. Hubner (1835-1929), the “Poet Laureate of the South,” lived at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Gordon Street in the city’s southwest quadrant. After a couple of decades in Atlanta, Hubner had a home built in the fashionable East End subdivision, one of the Atlanta Suburban Land Company’s residential ventures in unincorporated DeKalb County along the streetcar line linking Decatur and Atlanta. The Baltimore, Md., native served as a Confederate telegraph officer in the Civil War. After the war, H Read on →
In this day of anonymous email trashings, un-informed blog posts, and you tube mistakes that last forever, we rarely see political second chances. But last week a disgraced public servant rose like a Phoenix from the ashes to reclaim former glory in the political arena. Mark Sanford has been elected to represent Charleston, and South Carolina, in the United States Congress. In a room where everyone is addressed as “honorable” Sanford will have an opportunity to regain the revered glow that accompanied him during his magical time as governor of one of the self-proclaimed great states in this country, and finally bec Read on →