Can things get any worse for the North Carolina court system? Already facing a backlog of cases, the courts can anticipate claims prompted by the State Bureau of Investigation’s questionable practices. And, they have to wade through the claims inmates, defendants and their attorneys filed under the state’s Racial Justice Act.
The law was enacted in response to claims of racial bias in meting out the death sentence. Defendants who felt their trials had been tainted by bias were asked to file motions for review before August 10 of this year. Statistics and other evidence could be used to support their arguments.
The response was overwhelming, but not unexpected. The courts received motions from 152 of the 159 inmates on death row and 50 defendants awaiting trial. The question now is how to process 200 motions in a timely manner.
The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys (NCCDA) has decided to lend a team of helping hands. The organization contacted former prosecutors and charged them with reviewing each case on an individual basis. As part of the review, the team will look over the state’s experience with first-degree murder cases over the past 20 years and examine trends found in those 16,000 prosecutions.
The retirees will remain behind the scenes. They are there to help prosecutors prepare for the individual court dates — a process which, according to the NCCDA, could take four years.
This is not a no-cost proposition. The former prosecutors are not volunteering. Rather, the state Administrative Office of the Courts will pay each a part-time wage.
Other suggestions for moving the process along are out there — some of them with lower price tags. For example, a nonprofit that represents death row inmates recommends consolidating the Racial Justice Act cases and having just one judge hear them.
Prosecutors, though, are being cautious. They prefer the individual approach, they say, because each claim is different and should be handled on its own.
Resource: WRAL.com “Retired Prosecutors to Research Bias Claims” 8/31/10