July 15, 2009
The Racial Justice Act passed its final reading in the North Carolina House of Representatives by a vote of 61 to 53. Due to differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, it will now go back to the Senate, which can either agree to the House version or convene a committee to work out a compromise. The Senate approved its version by a vote of 30 to 16 back in May.
The most telling parts of the debate were the statements made by bill opponents. Representative Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) conceded that there is evidence of racism in the implementation of the death penalty, but encouraged others to vote against the bill because dealing with the problem would “clog up” the system. A fear of too much justice, indeed.
July 15, 2009
The North Carolina House of Representatives will have its final vote this afternoon on the Racial Justice Act. Expect word sometime after 3 PM.
Media reporting on yesterday’s vote is here and here.
From the Institute for Southern Studies:
Following a heated and emotional debate on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the North Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly endorsed the Racial Justice Act, legislation that would give capital murder defendants and death row inmates the right to challenge prosecutions on grounds of racial bias.
Specifically, the Racial Justice Act would allow defendants in death-penalty cases to use statistics to try to show that race played a factor in the application of the death penalty in their cases. If the statistics showed significant racial disparities in how the death penalty has been applied, a judge could block a prosecutor from pursuing the death penalty in that case, or overturn a jury’s decision to impose a death sentence. It would also allow inmates currently on death row the opportunity to argue that their death sentences were racially motivated. If a death sentence were thrown out under the bill, it would be converted to a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The act is a landmark piece of legislation for a state where blacks make up 20 percent of the total population but 60 percent of those on death row. The timing is also critical as North Carolina continues to debate the future of capital punishment.