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June 22, 2012

Big reform of NC Racial Justice Act headed (again) to Governor Perdue's desk

As reported in this AP article, North Carolina's "Republican-led Legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a bill limiting the use of trial statistics for people on North Carolina's death row who received another way in 2009 to prove racial bias in sentencing."  Here is more about this latest development in a long-running saga:

The measure now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue, who vetoed other legislation last December that would have essentially voided the Racial Justice Act. This time, it appears the General Assembly has veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The Senate finalized its passage with a vote of 30-18 in favor of the House's rewrite of the bill. The House approved the bill last week with the help of five Democrats. Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson said the governor will review the bill when it reaches her desk. She'll have 10 days to decide whether to veto the bill or let it become law.

The Racial Justice Act directs judges to reduce a death-row inmate's sentence to life in prison if they find race was a significant factor in a convicted murderer receiving a death sentence or in the composition of jurors hearing a case.

Opponents say the changes gut the intent of the law, but many of the state's district attorneys have said the Racial Justice Act has clogged up the court system and delayed the carrying out of capital punishment in North Carolina. Nearly all the 150-plus inmates on North Carolina's death row filed for reviews under the law, including white defendants convicted of killing white victims.

The bill makes clear that statistics alone cannot prove race was a significant factor. "They have really defeated the legitimate purpose of what this law was," said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, at the beginning of the Senate debate. "We don't want to see racial bias tainting our courtrooms. I think everybody agreed to that. The question that we have before us in this bill is how are we going to manage that."

The law caps the period of time which death penalty statistics can be used to prove racial bias to effectively 12 years around the murder case. There is currently no limit on the time. Statistics also could be entered into a Racial Justice Act hearing for the county and prosecutorial district where the homicide occurred, rather than anywhere in the entire state as the 2009 law allows. Senate Democrats said voting for the overhaul would strike a blow against the integrity of the criminal justice system and affect fairness in carrying out capital punishment.... "We've turned back the hands of time on ridding ourselves of ridding ourselves of prejudice in our courtrooms," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, after the vote. "When they've come forth today and gutted the Racial Justice Act, they've allowed those prejudices to creep back into our courtrooms once again."...

Sarah Preston with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the Racial Justice Act "a nationally recognized civil rights law that should serve as a model across this nation."

Death penalty opponents are likely to lobby Perdue to veto the bill, as they did successfully last December when she blocked passage of the previous Republican attempt to weaken the Racial Justice Act. She wrote at the time "it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina." She also signed the 2009 law.

If (when?) this big reform of the NC RJA becomes law (presumably after a veto and then an override), it will still be fascinating to watch all the litigation likely to surround all the pending RJA cases.  Though it seems that this NC RJA reform will make it much harder for all those on North Carolina's death row to get their death sentences reduced, this reform does not obviously mean that all the RJA cases must be dismissed.  In fact, though this reform will surely make it hard for those on death row in North Carolina to prevail on RJA claim, it may actually make it easier for those on death row to keep RJA litigation going for many years.

A few older and more recent posts on NC Racial Justice Act:

June 22, 2012 at 09:24 AM | Permalink


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|| "Death penalty opponents are likely to lobby Perdue to veto the bill, as they did successfully last December" ||

How can one hope to eliminate "racial bias tainting our courtrooms", with nearly "everybody agreed",
whilst anti-DP drones insert their incessant elitist pacifism?

Ballot box perhaps.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 22, 2012 11:24:30 AM

|| "Death penalty opponents are likely to lobby Perdue to veto the bill, as they did successfully last December" ||

Reminds one of the member of the U.K. cabinet (Lord Halifax?) who persisted--after even the moderate Neville Chamberlain lost power--
to urge capitulation to Nazi Germany.

Fortunately for Britain and the world, we had Churchill instead of Perdue.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 22, 2012 11:32:10 AM

Adamakis --

Don't worry, we won't have Perdue for long. Her stewardship of the state has been so dreadful that even the fawning press couldn't cover for her, so she decided to decline to run for re-election, saving her party (she hopes) an even more catastrophic defeat that the one they suffered in 2010, in which they lost both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 22, 2012 11:52:42 AM

I am ashamed to say that one of my wife's friends is one of the Michigan State professors who contributed to this mess. A career professor, I doubt she has ever stepped foot into a real courtroom and looked into the eyes of a victim's family. Really proud of herself though.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 22, 2012 1:11:28 PM

TarlsQtr --

Providence will offer you absolution for your wife's friends. Some things you don't get to choose.

The block-headed bias of academia is just staggering.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 22, 2012 2:10:23 PM

And I thought Former Governor Easley was bad for our State?

Posted by: Anon | Jun 23, 2012 1:03:37 AM

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