We were talking about House Bill 615, the proposal that would gut North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act. The bill was referred to committee last week but has not been scheduled for discussion or a vote yet. If the bill is passed, inmates who have been convicted of murder and sentenced to death will have to prove that there was a discriminatory purpose in the consideration or imposition of the death penalty. The burden is much higher than the existing law, which asks that inmates show that race was a significant factor in the sentencing and allows them to use statistics to back up their claim.
The proponents of the bill say that race may be a legitimate issue in some instances, such as excluding jurors based on their race. But, the death penalty decision should be left up to the jury or the prosecutor, not based on statewide statistics. Making a decision based on what happened in someone else’s case doesn’t make sense, they say — these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, with prosecutor and jury guided by the facts of the crime.
Proponents also say that the Racial Justice Act is a backdoor effort to make sure the death penalty is never carried out. If the death penalty is the problem, debate that issue without clogging the courts with sentencing appeals.
Opponents of the bill say that these changes to the Racial Justice Act will be a step backward. Asking inmates to prove a discriminatory purpose is exactly what the state did for 25 years. It didn’t work, they say — no one in North Carolina, or anywhere else for that matter, has prevailed under that law.
Other opponents say that repealing the Act would cost too much and would use up even more judicial resources than the current appeals will. Would the repeal be retroactive? Would all of the appeals on file be dismissed, or would they move ahead and only future appeals be barred?
Continued in our next post.
Source: NBC17.com, “State Republicans file bill to repeal the Racial Justice Act,” Michael Hewlett, updated 04/06/11