Racial Justice Act Amended - or Gutted - over Governor's Veto - Sparrow Law Firm

Efforts to keep the Racial Justice Act intact failed this year. Just two days after Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed SB 416, the senate and the house voted to override her veto. The amendments are now law, and the battle against racial prejudice in North Carolina’s justice system shifts gears; RJA supporters are now on the offensive.

Under the new law, offenders are still allowed to use statistics to bolster their arguments that race played a factor in their sentencing; now, though, they can only refer to data from 10 years prior to the slaying and two years after sentencing. The geographic range is limited as well: Only data showing bias in the county or prosecutorial district where the killing occurred will be heard.

Statistics alone are not enough, though. The offender must present additional evidence, whether through the testimony of lawyers, judicial clerks, jurors and others. Whatever evidence the offender presents is open for rebuttal from the state.

We have discussed before that opponents of the RJA argued that it was a thinly veiled effort to eliminate the death penalty. There has not been an execution in North Carolina since 2006. With the passage of SB 416, “The end of the moratorium is in sight,” according to the House Majority Leader.

The death penalty argument misses the point, Perdue said. She said she would fight to keep the death penalty on the books, but she would also fight to make sure capital punishment was meted out without racial prejudice. In her veto statement, Perdue pointed to a superior court’s ruling on an RJA claim. In that case, the judge “determined that racial discrimination occurred in death penalty trials across the state over a multi-year period.”

The governor also took lawmakers to task for focusing on gutting the RJA instead of trying to address the underlying problems with North Carolina’s justice system. Ignoring the flaws, she said, will not make them go away.

Supporters of SB 416 touted the bill as a “compromise.” For Perdue, that can’t be true: The amendments render the RJA meaningless, she said.


The Charlotte Post, “Veto override scuttles N.C. Racial Justice Act,” Gary Robertson, July 3, 2012

North Carolina General Assembly, “SB 416: Governor’s Objections and Veto Message,” June 29, 2012