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June 18, 2012

Is effort to reform North Carolina's Racial Justice Act a "Test of Racial Justice"?

The question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new editorial from the New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

North Carolina’s Legislature is moving shamefully to gut the state’s 2009 Racial Justice Act.  The statute is the first in the nation to allow death row inmates to have their sentence reduced to life without parole if they show that the sentence was tainted by racial bias.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill to repeal the law, but Gov. Bev Perdue wisely vetoed it and the lawmakers failed to override the veto.  She needs to show the same steadfastness and veto the new measure, which has already passed the State House and is expected to be approved by the Senate this week.

The bill would not repeal the Racial Justice Act, but would so severely limit the proof an inmate could use to show race bias as to render the law ineffective....

This spring, in the first case challenging a death sentence under the act, Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks issued a 167-page opinion finding that Marcus Robinson, a death row inmate, was the victim of clear discrimination in jury selection.  The judge found “highly reliable” statistical evidence from a study by the Michigan State University College of Law showing racial discrimination in the removal of blacks from juries in all but four of the state’s 100 counties.

Until the death penalty is abolished, as it should be, the Racial Justice Act is a pragmatic way to address the state’s stark history of racial discrimination in its criminal justice system.  Governor Perdue must stop the latest effort to undo the law.

I must take issue with this editorial's assertion that NC's Racial Justice Act is a "pragmatic" way to do much of anything other than to provide an apparently effective means to achieve a nearly de facto retroactive repeal of the state's death penalty.  The NC RJA only applies in capital cases and  it might be interpreted as now written to require reversal of every death sentence imposed in the state over the last 30 years.  Thus, the NC RJA does not really address "the state’s stark history of racial discrimination in its criminal justice system" except for the very worst murderers sentenced to death, and it appears that all of those murderers could get relief from this Act.

It is certainly possible that the voters of North Carolina truly want every state death sentence nullified because of extant statistical evidence that race may have played a role in many (most? all?) capital case jury selection proceedings.  If so, there should be political support for the current version of the NC RJA and public opposition to any proposed reform.  But it is also possible that voters do not now support those provisions of the RJA which may functionally serve to repeal the state's death penalty.  If so, then the on-going work by the NC legislature would appear to be a proper expression of representative democracy.

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

June 18, 2012 at 12:12 AM | Permalink

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Comments

: : "as now written to require reversal of every death sentence imposed in the state over the last 30 years"

Good on you, Prof. Berman. . .

Isn't it funny how the Times and their ilk commonly support the overthrow of laws so broadly written as
too 'vague' and indiscriminate, but not this time?

: : "other than to provide an apparently effective means to achieve a nearly de facto retroactive repeal"

Rather than justice. . .

Isn't this the actual end-game of end-justify-means anti-DP advocates?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 18, 2012 11:16:30 AM

"Abolitionists were willing to lie for at least a decade about Roger Keith Coleman, and some things never change.”
~~K. Scheidegger

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 18, 2012 11:17:20 AM

It addresses racial injustice's starkest application just as Coker did.

"might be interpreted"

might not be

Posted by: Joe | Jun 18, 2012 11:39:45 AM

"Abolitionists were willing to lie"

http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2010/12/after-the-exoneration-comes.html

The quote is worth me reading federalist cautioning restraint.

The "whole story" underlines that is right. The upshot is that a person was released because of tainted evidence. The evidence was tainted. From the article cited:

"After Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agreed that Pabst's perjured testimony had tainted the original conviction"

But, the person evidence pled guilty. The far from surprising point being that a case can be tossed out because of a taint but it doesn't necessarily prove factual innocence. We have a high burden of proof.

The quote references another case that in effect applies the same principle. The motto is better "x" amount guilty free etc. not that "high protection of due process has no costs at all."

What "abolitionists" are "lying" about is unclear but such knee-jerking is ill advised. It can take out an eye.


Posted by: Joe | Jun 18, 2012 11:49:51 AM

Joe --

"What 'abolitionists' are 'lying' about is unclear..."

It's perfectly clear. They indignantly claimed for at least a decade that Roger Keith Coleman was an innocent man who had been executed, and that he had been rushed into the death chamber by an amoral jury, a thug prosecutor and a politically ambitious judge.

As it turned out, the judge, jury and prosecutor were correct, and those snarling about Coleman's innocence were lying.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 18, 2012 12:17:06 PM

Yes, the "abolitionists" went to their "abolitionist" meeting and officially settled upon those things. Some of us, apparently, didn't receive an invitation, so did not vote on the "amoral thug" statement.

The position was that Coleman's rights weren't properly followed and that given the death penalty is at stake, we should be especially sure that doesn't happen. One way we have this is to have defense attorneys and organizations strongly defending the rights in question. But, again, and this isn't that hard, this doesn't necessarily mean that the person is factually innocent.

Charles Gideon himself might have been guilty but those who strongly denounced his conviction -- his legal guilt -- were not "lying" even if he was.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 18, 2012 1:28:37 PM

Joe --

"The position was that Coleman's rights weren't properly followed and that given the death penalty is at stake, we should be especially sure that doesn't happen."

Wrongo. The position was principally substantive, not procedural -- that Coleman didn't do it and someone else (named in a DPIC article as Donney Ramey) did. The truth was the opposite.

Incidentally, the article is STILL carried on the DPIC site now, years after it was debunked. Don't believe me? Go here, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/578 and about halfway down the page you'll see it.

If you see an apology to Mr. Ramey anywhere, let me know. I must have missed it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 18, 2012 3:01:32 PM

For the record, the post Adamakis quotes in the 11:17 comment is Bill Otis's, not mine.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jun 18, 2012 4:40:44 PM

Kent --

I am always flattered to be confused with you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 18, 2012 6:03:03 PM

Sorry about the misapplication; howbeit, the quote must needs be chucked far away--as "prejudicial" rather than "probative" no?

From what I have gathered regarding the defence bar--nearly a dozen in my family at one time--the following tends to be de rigueur for many:

:: when decisive facts which determine guilt or innocence are too compelling and comprehensive, the moral relativists prefer evasion through "procedural" complaints.

(see Demetrius Montgomery, Coleman, etc.)

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 19, 2012 9:07:09 AM

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