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July 3, 2012

NC legislatue overrides Gov veto of its changes to state's Racial Justice Act

A very interesting, dynamic and long-running legal debate concerning race and the death penalty in North Carolina, which has already drawn all three government branches into the discourse, has taken yet another important turn today as reported in this AP article.  The piece is headlined "NC Legislature overrides death penalty bill veto," and here are excerpts:

The North Carolina Legislature on Monday cancelled Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of legislation that rolled back a state law giving death row prisoners a way to seek a reduced sentence because of racial bias.

The House and Senate voted separately to override Perdue's veto of changes to the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The bill now becomes law because at least 60 percent of the legislators in each chamber voted to override.

The measure was approved despite arguments it would turn a blind eye to racism in the criminal justice system. Most local district attorneys and other death penalty supporters argue the scaled-back law will rely less on statistics they say were misleading and untie a log jam over the carrying out of executions in North Carolina. North Carolina's last execution was in 2006.

"With today's override of the governor's veto, the end of the moratorium is in sight," House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, the bill's chief proponent in the chamber, said in a statement. "The basic principle of justice is restored: individual responsibility."

Lawmakers who supported the Racial Justice Act said the changes gutted the law and will make it impossible for defendants to prove discrimination in the sentencing of a convicted murderer or in the composition of jurors hearing a case. A judge who finds race was a significant factor could reduce a death sentence to life in prison without parole....

The new law limits defendants' use of statistics they think prove racial bias from a time span 10 years before a slaying and two years after a sentence. There had been no time limit. The new law also says statistics alone cannot prove race was a significant factor in a death row inmate's conviction or sentence. Statistics also are now limited to conduct of prosecutors near where the murder occurred, rather than anywhere in the entire state as the previous law allowed.

The one death penalty case ruled on by a judge under the Racial Justice Act will be allowed to continue under the law. A Cumberland County judge found that condemned killer Marcus Robinson's 1991 trial was so tainted by the racially-influenced decisions of prosecutors that he should be removed from death row. Prosecutors plan to appeal his decision.

Weeks made the decision after reviewing a study of North Carolina death penalty cases that found prosecutors eliminated black jurors more than twice as often as white jurors and that a defendant is nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white.

"By gutting the Racial Justice Act, our Legislature has turned its back on the overwhelming evidence of racial bias in our state's death penalty system," said Sarah Preston with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

All of these legislative developments now set up some interesting (though probably unavailing) ex post facto arguments for condemned NC defendants who brought claims under the RJA before it was reformed.  In addition, I cannot help but wonder if Gov Perdue might be pressured to use her clemency powers to aid defendants who would have had stronger arguments to get off death row under the pre-reform version of the RJA.  In short, this (now-in-the-books) reform of the RJA in North Carolina does not end a significant number of notable legal and policy question surrounding the administration of capital justice in the Tar Heel State.

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

July 3, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Permalink

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"When we look back on all the perils through which we have passed and at the mighty foes that we have laid low and all the dark and deadly designs that we have frustrated, why should we fear for our future?~~Churchill

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 3, 2012 1:30:24 PM

The ultimate result of the RJA appears to be making a mess of an already convoluted system all for the benefit of heinous and guilty murderers. It will not enhance or perfect justice, just delay it for decades.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 3, 2012 2:26:02 PM

There was no theoretical justification for the use of statewide stats. So why did the Dems put it in?

Posted by: federalist | Jul 3, 2012 2:48:17 PM

The sole racial bias in the death penalty of today is to devalue the life of the black murder victim. The police does not work hard to protect or to investigate their murders. One reason is that left wing black activists have deterred the police by ruinous litigation every time they pick on a black criminal.

The black murderer is actually privileged by the pro-criminal lawyer system. I would like to see the lawyer profession excluded from all important policy decisions. They are totally dominated by feminists and their male running dogs. Feminist are horrible racists across the black lifespan. So a greater fraction of abortions are of black babies, all the way to end of life care and its racial disparities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 3, 2012 3:16:41 PM

Good, at last North Carolina can resume its execution of black folks charged by white prosecutors, presided over by white judges, and convicted by white juries. Though I still long for the old days where we white folks used old-fashioned justice and saved money and time too --you know: strange fruit hanging on the poplar trees.

Posted by: anon1 | Jul 3, 2012 3:21:34 PM

@anon1
A defendant does not need to have been sentenced by an all-White jury, White prosecutors or a White judge to win in an RJA hearing. Marcus Robinson won and all he needed were statistics purporting to show bias in the state as a whole. In fact, his jury had three non-White jurors.

Add to that the fact that nearly all of the White inmates on North Carolina's death row are filing similar appeals and you will see why I think this law is such a crock.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 3, 2012 3:35:45 PM

Ok, libs. Those of you who have chided me for whatever. What about anon1's comment? It is bereft of reasoning. Where's the criticism?

The RJA was a vehicle by which Dems have inflicted pain on a white victim's family for the benefit of a black racist killer. Where's the racial justice in that? Why did Dems do it? This was foreseeable, yet they did it anyway. Could it be that their political interests were better served?

Come on guys. You wanna come out and play? Get off the porch and run with the big dogs.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 3, 2012 4:01:06 PM

Anon stated: "Good, at last North Carolina can resume its execution of black folks charged by white prosecutors, presided over by white judges, and convicted by white juries. Though I still long for the old days where we white folks used old-fashioned justice and saved money and time too --you know: strange fruit hanging on the poplar trees."

You libs are so racist. Why should the race of the jury, judge, and prosecutors make a bit of difference? Isn't the real question whether the defendent is guilty?

Then again, justice IS a foreign concept to libs as well.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 3, 2012 4:17:53 PM

TarIsQtr asks:

"Why should the race of the jury, judge, and prosecutors make a bit of difference? Isn't the real question whether the defendent is guilty?"

I respond: Why is there gravity? Why do tragic things happen to good men?
Why is there cancer? Do you truly think the race of the jury, judge, and prosecutor don't matter? Give me a break.

Posted by: anon1 | Jul 3, 2012 4:45:03 PM

I don't like when anyone speaks in tones like "which Dems have inflicted pain on a white victim's family," no matter who says it. It's overblown rhetoric.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 3, 2012 6:40:24 PM

"which Dems have inflicted pain on a white victim's family," no matter who says it. It's overblown rhetoric."

yes overblown rhetoric coinciding with an overinflated ego

Posted by: from the peanut gallery | Jul 3, 2012 7:03:32 PM

Anon1,

The problem is the assumption that it ALWAYS matters. Statistics tell us nothing about any alleged bias in a specific case.

That you automatically believe there would not be one (all you need) justice-minded white juror out of twelve says more about you than it does the "system."

It's called projection.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 3, 2012 8:40:00 PM

Nice of you to yank my quote out of context, Joe. The bottom line is that NC Dems decided to allow bogus "evidence" to help out a black racist killer. And they inflicted pain on a white family. I ask again--does that seem like racial justice? It's not like NC Dems didn't know the crimes for which these guys have been convicted. They did--and they chose what they chose.

You can say you don't like my rhetoric all you like---but it's obvious you can't deal with the ugliness of what the Dems did. Nice party you have there.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 4, 2012 12:25:28 PM

anon1 --

The only important question is whether the defendant did it. Narcissism is about the characteristics of the actors; trials are about their behavior -- the thing you seem determined to ignore.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 4, 2012 5:32:56 PM

As ::federalist:: wrote, the sad irony is that:

"The racial part was on (Robinson's) side," she said….a witness testified at the trial that Robinson said he was going to

"kill a whitey."

fayobserver.com ((must be edited by "white folks"~~anon1))

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 5, 2012 9:37:53 AM

I to am interested to see if Governor Perdue will use her Clemency powers. The Governors of past have been very reluctant to use clemency.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 5, 2012 9:00:10 PM

Anon --

If she does use the clemency power, I'll bet you $100 here and now that it won't be until after the election. Even though she's declined to run again (being considerably behind in the polls), she won't want to get pegged as the one who lost the state for the Democrats, which is a sure bet if she empties death row before November 6. She did her party a bad enough turn last time, when her popularity was so low that the Republicans won both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

So are we on with my proposed bet?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 6, 2012 12:24:12 AM

The colors are so gorgeous Sandy! I am sure your quilt will be perfectly lovely! Wishing you a wonderful week! Angie xo

Posted by: Nike Brand Shoes | Aug 6, 2012 5:37:13 AM

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