NC Gov. McCrory Quietly Repeals Law Aimed At Eliminating Proven Racial Bias In Death Penalty Cases

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The governor of North Carolina repealed a law aimed at helping death row inmates whose sentencing was affected by racial bias.

It is shown repeatedly in criminological research that racial bias is alive and well in death penalty cases. North Carolina is a prime example; the state has a disproportionate number of black death row inmates (51%) when compared to whites (40%), and it is even more evident when you take percentage of African-Americans in the state (22%) into account. The Racial Justice Act of 2009 was passed by Democrats when they had control of the North Carolina state government through both the General Assembly and the governorship. The Act was designed to allow death row inmates to appeal their sentences (not their convictions) if they could provide sufficient evidence of racial bias in their cases. The law is credited with helping at least four convicts get their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Once Republicans gained control of the legislature, an attempt was made to repeal the law, but Gov. Bev Perdue (D) was still in charge and vetoed the repeal. Later, Republicans did manage to water down the power of the bill by requiring that any statistical data used must apply to the county in which the sentencing took place, not the state in general. Of course, this made it very difficult to pursue a claim based on the lack of data availability.

But even this weakened law simply would not do for Gov. Pat McCrory, who felt the law effectively banished the death penalty in the state and, therefore, needed to be repealed so they could get on with the killing.

“Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act. The state’s district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.”

Colon Willoughby, District Attorney for Wake County, told WRAL that the law was nothing more than an attempt to keep the state’s death penalty from being enforced.

“The premise of it is that somehow, because juries were white, that they discriminated against people, both white and black. The whole underlying concept of it is ridiculous.”

While it is certainly true that not every one of the 153 death row inmates will be able to prove racial bias in their case, the repeal of the law is a major blow to those who may have a legitimate case, which may be a substantial number. The first case to make it all the way through the process was that of Marcus Robinson, whose counsel argued that racial bias was evident in his trial, based on the prosecutors’ use of their peremptory challenges to keep black (and supposedly sympathetic) jurors off the jury. Robinson was found to have been a target of racial bias, and his sentence was automatically commuted to life.

The repeal of this law leaves the fate of current claims, and the lives of the inmates, in limbo. There is talk of the repeal possibly being made retroactive, which would essentially send Robinson and the other three inmates who have had their sentences commuted back to death row.

This is far from being the only controversial action currently being pursued by the North Carolina Republicans. For more on the GOP agenda in the state, see “480 Religious Leaders Arrested On ‘Moral Monday’ For Protesting UnChristian GOP Policies (VIDEO).”