Senate Bill 306 passed the North Carolina Senate and headed to the House this week, moving the state closer to a full repeal of the Racial Justice Act and a return to executing death row inmates. The Racial Justice Act has been under fire at the General Assembly since it was passed in 2009. A number of factors, not the least of which was a state Supreme Court decision, have put executions on hold since 2006.
The Racial Justice Act allows inmates in the state who were convicted of capital crimes to use statistics to prove that their conviction was tainted by racial bias. If they were successful, their sentences would be reduced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Last year, the General Assembly amended the law to say that statistics could not be the only evidence of racial bias and that the inmate’s race could not be a consideration.
More than 150 prisoners filed appeals under the law when it first went into effect. In 2012, a Cumberland County court found that four inmates’ trials were tainted by racial bias, in their cases during jury selection.
The statistics in question came from a state-mandated study of murder trials in North Carolina. The analysis showed that prosecutors removed blacks from jury pools more than twice as often as they removed whites. The researchers also found that juries were more likely — 2-1/2 times more likely — to impose the death sentence in cases where at least one victim was white.
SB 306 would also, as some headlines put it, “fast track” executions that have been on hold for more than six years. We will discuss that part of the bill in our next post.
Source: News & Observer, “NC Senate OKs repeal of Racial Justice Act,” Craig Jarvis and Anne Blythe, April 3, 2013
Our firm helps people in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area who have been accused of capital crimes. If you are interested in learning more about our criminal defense practice, please visit the murder and manslaughter page of our website.