North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act was passed in 2009. It was intended to help defendants combat racial discrimination. Racial discrimination can, of course, be present in many forms. One way it has deeply affected the criminal justice system is in how some prosecutors selected juries, especially for trials that could end with a defendant’s receiving a death sentence.
This story is about three people who had been sentenced to death and took their Racial Justice Act cases to a trial court. In 2012, each won a sentence reduction to life in prison based on evidence of racial bias in the prosecutors’ selection of jury members. One of the defendants had been involved in gang-related killings, and two had killed law enforcement officers. One defendant was Native American, and two were black.
Their victory in the trial court, however, was not the end of the story. State attorneys appealed the trial court’s decision. The Supreme Court of North Carolina has agreed to hear the case. Again the state attorneys will present their arguments that race did not play the role the defendants say it did.
This was not the end of the story for the Racial Justice Act, either. While Democratic North Carolina legislators passed the Act in 2009, Republican legislators repealed it in 2012, overriding the governor’s veto. But the case continues for the three defendants.
For people accused of murder, the stakes could not be higher. Many will fight for justice at all levels of our court system, taking proper advantage of the rights it provides them.
Source: News & Observer, “NC Supreme Court to hear more racial bias cases,” Oct. 4, 2013