With a stroke of her pen this morning, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue preserved the state’s Racial Justice Law — for the moment. The governor’s veto of Senate Bill 9 allows the petitions of 154 death row inmates to proceed.
The bill would have significantly changed the law by eliminating the admissibility of statistical evidence in inmates’ efforts to have their sentences overturned. District attorneys and Republican legislators supported the measure vigorously; both groups have long argued that the law acts as a “back-door” elimination of the death penalty.
In her veto message, Gov. Perdue addressed some of their concerns. She affirmed both her support of the death penalty and her commitment to ensuring that racial prejudice plays no role in prosecution and sentencing of any criminal suspect.
Critics of the Racial Justice Act claimed that the law, in combination with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, would put dozens of inmates back on the street. A successful challenge would equal a release from prison.
Supporters of the act point to other case law that backs up the statute. The only remedy for a finding of bias would be commuting the death sentence to a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
Critics have also argued that the petitions from death row inmates will clog the court system. Worse, the courts would be wasting resources on hearing claims that had been appealed over and over again.
Others point out that repeal of the statistical evidence provision would likely spark a number of lawsuits — clogging the system. They also urge prosecutors and other critics to allow at least one case to make its way through the system. Without any experience putting the Racial Justice Act to work, neither side’s argument is on solid ground.
Political commentators say the chance of an override is slim. Most agree, though, that the veto will come up during the governor’s re-election campaign next year.
Source: News & Observer, “Perdue veto saves death-row appeal law,” Craig Jarvis, Dec. 15, 2011