North Carolina Repeals Historic Racial Justice Act
RALEIGH – Today North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 306, legislation that fully repeals the historic Racial Justice Act, which allowed death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and receive life in prison without parole if they could show evidence that racial bias was a factor in their sentence. Four death-row inmates have been resentenced to life in prison after a judge found that racial discrimination played a key role in securing their sentences.
“The Racial Justice Act brought to light undeniable proof that North Carolina’s death penalty system is plagued by racial bias,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “By repealing this law barely four years into its existence, North Carolina’s leadership has willfully turned its back on widespread evidence of systemic racial bias that needs to be addressed – not ignored. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and without bias. Sadly, North Carolina’s lawmakers have just undone the best tool our state had to achieve that goal.”
In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future."
The heart of the statistical evidence presented in the Robinson case from a comprehensive study by researchers from Michigan State University that showed that state prosecutors in North Carolina were significantly more likely to strike potential jurors who were African-American. In a related study, the researchers found that defendants are much more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white than if the victim is black.
On December 13, 2012, three more state death-row inmates were resentenced to life in prison without parole after a judge found that racial discrimination played a key role in securing their sentences. The ACLU's Capital Punishment Project helped represent all three inmates.