Politics

North Carolina Repeals Racial Justice Act, Death Row Inmates Lose Ability to Claim Racial Bias

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act of 2009 prohibits the seeking or imposing of the death penalty based on a person’s race. State representatives no longer think systematic racism in capital punishment cases is a problem. The North Carolina House voted 77-39 Wednesday to repeal the law. SB 306 will repeal the RJA.

As noted by Raw Story, a judge in Fayetteville threw out the death sentence in the case of Marcus Raymond Robinson on April 20, 2012. Robinson argued that when he was sentenced in 1994, prosecutors made a concerted effort to keep qualified black jurors from serving.

There are now 152 people on death row in the state. Without the RJA, they can no longer claim racial bias played a rolling in their sentencing in order to have their sentence converted to life without parole.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina called RJA “a historic civil rights law that seeks to address racial bias in the state’s death penalty system.”

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“The Racial Justice Act has made it possible to shine a light on widespread and indisputable evidence of racial bias in North Carolina’s death penalty system that needs to be addressed,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston in a statement. “Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and with respect for due process, yet this bill makes it harder, if not impossible, to achieve that goal.” 

Some representatives thought the act was deeply flawed.

“No one wants actual racial discrimination," said Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake, to the House on Tuesday. "What we don’t want also is for race to be used for a pretext – a pretext in order to stop the death penalty.”

“It tries to put a carte blanche solution on the problem,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Hardin, to the New York Times. “A white supremacist who murdered an African-American could argue he was a victim of racism if blacks were on the jury.”

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Others argued the RJA was put in place for a reason.

“It’s incredibly sad,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. “If you can’t face up to your history and make sure it’s not repeated, it lends itself to being repeated.”

“In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant 'introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina,'"said Prestons aid in an ACLU-NC statement.

“It’s simply an attempt to get people off death row by arguing that the frequency of the death penalty in one race is more than another," said state Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, to The Daily Tar Heel. "It doesn’t deal with the word ‘bias’ or ‘discrimination.’”

Sources: Raw Story, New York Times