The North Carolina Racial Justice Act of 2009
… prohibited seeking or imposing the death penalty on the basis of race. The act identified types of evidence that might be considered by the court when considering whether race was a basis for seeking or imposing the death penalty, and established a process by which relevant evidence might be used to establish that race was a significant factor in seeking or imposing the death penalty. The defendant had the burden of proving that race was a significant factor in seeking or imposing the death penalty, and the state was allowed to offer evidence to rebut the claims or evidence of the defendant. If race was found to be a significant factor in the imposition of the death penalty, the death sentence would automatically be commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
North Carolina General Assembly Repeal attempts
Under pressure from a group of 43 district attorneys, who expressed opposition to the act citing the clog of the court system in the state, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill by a 27-14 vote on November 28, 2011, that would have effectively repealed the Racial Justice Act. However, on December 14, Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, saying that while she supports the death penalty, she felt it was “simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.” The state legislature did not have enough votes to override Perdue’s veto.
Major revision (2012)
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a major revision of the law in 2012 authored by Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake). The rewrite “severely restricts the use of statistics to only the county or judicial district where the crime occurred, instead of the entire state or region. It also says statistics alone are insufficient to prove bias, and that the race of the victim cannot be taken into account.” The bill was vetoed by Gov. Perdue, but this time, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto.
Appeals under act
On April 20, 2012, in the first case appealed under the Racial Justice Act, the then-Senior Resident Superior Court Judge in Cumberland County (Fayetteville), Judge Greg Weeks, threw out the death sentence of Marcus Raymond Robinson, automatically commuting his sentence to life without parole. Robinson contended that when he was sentenced to death in 1994, prosecutors deliberately kept blacks off the jury. Robinson’s lawyers cited a study from Michigan State University College of Law indicating that prosecutors across North Carolina improperly used their peremptory challenges to systemically exclude qualified black jurors from jury service.
- Senate Bill 461, General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2009
- Bufkin, Sarah. “North Carolina General Assembly Votes To Repeal Landmark Racial Justice Law”. Think Progress: Justice. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- Jarvis, Greg (2012-12-15). “Perdue veto saves death-row appeal law”. The News & Observer.
- News & Observer
- Charlotte Observer
- “Judge: Racism played role in Cumberland County trial, death sentence converted in N.C.’s first Racial Justice Act case”. The Fayetteville Observer. April 20, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2012.
- “Racial bias saves death row man”. BBC News (BBC). April 20, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2012.
- Zucchino, David (April 20, 2012). “Death penalty vacated under North Carolina’s racial justice law”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 21, 2012.