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June 13, 2012

North Carolina legislature trying again to cut back on state's consequential Racial Justice Act

As reported in this local article, which is headlined "House approves bill that weakens Racial Justice Act," legislators in North Carolina are trying again to take the teeth out of landmark legislation which appears to have functionally killed the death penalty in the Tar Heel State. Here are the details:

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would substantially weaken the Racial Justice Act.  The 2009 law allows death-row inmates to try to use statistical proof of racial bias by North Carolina prosecutors to convert their sentences to life in prison without parole.  The bill approved Tuesday so restricts the use of statistics that they would be useless in most cases.

Statistics could only be used for the county or judicial district where the crime was committed, rather than statewide, and only covering a period of 10 years before the offense and two years after the sentence.  Defendants would have to come up with some other evidence to prove bias, as statistics alone would not be enough, under the proposed law.

The 72-47 vote Tuesday would be enough to override a gubernatorial veto. Last year, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed another bill aimed at dismantling the Racial Justice Act.  The margin of victory was accomplished with five conservative Democrats who once again broke party ranks.

The House is expected to give final approval to the bill on Wednesday, and then it will go to the Senate, which also has enough votes for an override if necessary. The Senate overrode the veto in January, but the House didn’t have the votes to do so....

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, said on the House floor Tuesday the Racial Justice Act was well-intended but has simply allowed convicted killers of any race another avenue to try to avoid the death penalty.  The law should be about each case and not statistics, he said. “This is about monsters,” Dollar said.  “Monsters.  Evil people doing unspeakable, inhuman acts.  That’s what this is about.”

Rep. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Rocky Mount, answered Dollar.   “Just because we face monsters, we will not ourselves become monsters,” she said.  “We are upholding a system of laws that will apply no matter what monsters we face.”...

Following the vote, Sarah Preston, police director for the American Civil Liberties Union of N.C., issued a statement criticizing legislators for passing a bill that ignores the findings of a Cumberland County Superior Court judge earlier this year that there was overwhelming evidence of racial bias in the state’s capital punishment system.  “This effort is a direct attack on the entire Racial Justice Act, a nationally recognized civil rights law that would be gutted by this bill,” Preston said.

If (when?) this reform of the NC Racial Justice Act becomes law, I suspect there will still be years of litigation before the North Carolina even gets close to resuming executions.

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

June 13, 2012 at 09:37 AM | Permalink

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"If (when?) this reform of the NC Racial Justice Act becomes law, I suspect there will still be years of litigation before the North Carolina even gets close to resuming executions."

Thank you criminal-coddling Democrats.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 13, 2012 9:47:37 AM

"Rep. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Rocky Mount, answered Dollar. 'Just because we face monsters, we will not ourselves become monsters,' she said. 'We are upholding a system of laws that will apply no matter what monsters we face'..."

It's (1) wise for Ms. Bryant to understand that some of these killers are so grotesque that "monsters" is a fair characterization, but (2) contemptible for her to characterize those who differ with her on reforming the RJA as themselves "monsters." Where is all the talk we hear from Democrats about civility? Must be subject to, as they say, cancellation without notice.

As to the RJA itself, it's complete baloney. If Defendant X can show that racism affected HIS case, he should get a new shot at it. If he cannot show that racism affected HIS case, it's completely irrelevant that, historically, it affected a hundred other people's cases.

This is just not that hard.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 13, 2012 1:50:36 PM

the reason there will be years of litigation is because the house republicans have taken a school bus bill which passed the senate, gutted it, substituted an effective repeal of the Racial Justice Act and then passed it. Disingenuous games playing and power politics. I've said over and over that capital punishment is as much a part of the political system as the criminal justice system.

bruce

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jun 13, 2012 6:07:29 PM

“This is about monsters."

vampires?

"Evil" or "inhuman" or whatever doesn't change that "persons" are at stake here who have certain rights and the system set up needs to be run in a certain way. Talking about "monsters" or "evil" or whatever are somewhat cheap labels that doesn't change this bottom line. If the law is bad, the law is bad, trying to dehumanize people isn't the way to go. I don't know how useful this specific law is, but it grew from clear history of racial inequality in the system.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 13, 2012 9:24:34 PM

The problem is that there are situations where systemic discrimination and inequality can clearly be seen to be distorting the process when one looks at a larger group of results, but the effects are hard to conclusively identify in any specific case. Putting the burden on the defendant to establish the latter identification in effect insulates systemic effects from review. This is not rocket science, and is the common sense basis for the RJA, but unfortunately, that basis is ease to attack with cheap political rhetoric about monsters, etc.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 15, 2012 3:31:12 PM

Anon -

This is like saying that, because juries found the last hundred defendants guilty, the present defendant must be guilty too because, obviously, there are "systemic effects" leading uniformly to the charging only of guilty people.

Got a problem with that? Me too.

That the last hundred defendants were guilty tells us zip about whether this one is. What will tell us is the evidence (or lack of same) in his case.

Example: A defendant with a history of domestic abuse may have belted his wife this time too -- but maybe not. Only the evidence about THIS EPISODE will tell us. And, as any defense lawyer will (correctly) insist, evidence of past episodes should be excluded as irrelevant, and prejudicial, to what happened this time.

Ditto with racism. If it affected the present case, there must be SOME specific evidence that will show it. If there is no such evidence, simply to assume that it did anyway is just making it up.

The real purpose of the RJA is to keep the DP ever from being imposed in North Carolina because that state has a history of anti-black racism, and the revenge for this fact will consist of preventing North Carolina from executing anyone, no matter how much they have earned it. North Carolina does indeed have such a history, but that has nothing to do with the correct disposition of today's case, absent some concrete evidence of history's effect.

The RJA is, at the end of the day (not to mention the beginning), another abolitionist dodge. If abolitionists want to end the DP in North Carolina because of slavery, Jim Crow, etc., the honest thing to do is to put abolition on the ballot, as in California. The reason abolitionists won't do that is they would get their clock cleaned and they know it. So (when and only when) they had the House, Senate and Governor's seat (much like how Obamacare got shoved through), they rammed through quasi, de facto abolition without ever calling it by that name.

That's very shrewd (as long as it lasts, which won't be that long since the voters had their say in 2010); it's just not very honest.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 15, 2012 9:30:28 PM

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