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May 18, 2012

North Carolina prosecutors convene to strategize about Racial Justice Act claims

This local piece from North Carolina, headlined "Prosecutors will learn how to fight Racial Justice Act," reports on the next chapter in the on-going story concerning the law and practices surrounding the state's Racial Justice Act. Here are the details:

A month after a Cumberland County judge ruled for the defendant in the first case under the Racial Justice Act, about 60 prosecutors from across North Carolina are coming to Forsyth County today to learn how to fight motions filed under the law.

Forsyth County prosecutors are preparing for two pending motions under the Racial Justice Act, a law adopted in 2009 that allows defendants and death-row inmates to use statistics and other evidence to prove that race played a significant role in their cases.

The motions filed under the act deal with statistics from a study by two Michigan State University law professors finding racial disparities in the application of the death penalty. Successful motions can lead to changing a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Forsyth County prosecutors are consulting with statistical experts and other witnesses who might be used in other Racial Justice Act cases across North Carolina. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill said giving other prosecutors a chance to hear those experts in a one-day session saves money.

He declined to comment on specifics of the training because it deals with pending litigation, but he said in general that the Racial Justice Act has resulted in expensive legal actions.

O'Neill said he and other prosecutors tried to warn legislators that the Racial Justice Act would cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money, to no avail. "This training session is my attempt to save at least some money for the taxpayers," he said....

O'Neill and other prosecutors have opposed the Racial Justice Act, calling it a backhanded attempt to end the death penalty. They have also said the law would clog the court system. More than 95 percent of the people on death row have filed under the act....

Peg Dorer, executive director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, said the Racial Justice Act cases are unusually complex because they deal with statistics. "It has nothing to do with the facts of the case," she said. "It has to do with statistical cases in the study."

Tye Hunter, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, said he has no problem with prosecutors having a training session but hopes they also deal with the racial disparities the Cumberland judge said are inherent in the death penalty. "I think what Judge Weeks said in his order was that he hoped this would be an opportunity for prosecutors to look at what they had done in the past and avoid making the same mistakes in the future," he said.

Recent related posts on first NC Racial Justice Act ruling:

May 18, 2012 at 08:13 AM | Permalink

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