The Racial Justice Act was meant to apply only to African-American defendants. (See statement of Halifax District Attorney Melissa Pelfrey.)
First, it would be unconstitutional to apply a particular criminal penalty only to persons of one race. Racially disproportionate application of the death penalty is the problem the RJA seeks to cure, not to cause.
Second, by its terms, the Racial Justice Act is concerned not only with the race of the defendant, but also with the race of the victim and the composition of the jury.
The Racial Justice Act has allowed defendants to delay their trials. (See this article with reference to Mecklenburg County defendant Demeatrius Montgomery.)
The judge postponed Mr. Montgomery’s trial by three months to allow for the consideration of RJA issues, but even with that delay, Mr. Montgomery’s trial will go to trial faster than the average Mecklenburg County capital case in the past eight years.
Across the state, there have been more capital trials so far this year than there were in the same period the year before the RJA passed. The Racial Justice Act has not brought the criminal justice system to a screeching halt. Slowing down the rush to trial makes it less likely that a person will be wrongfully sentenced to die.
Statistics are not relevant to whether the death penalty is applied fairly.
Statistics are commonly used to show discrimination in other kinds of cases, such as housing and employment. The RJA simply allows the court to consider the same evidence in a criminal case that it would in a different kind of lawsuit.
Furthermore, the State will have an opportunity to present its own statistics or other evidence to rebut a charge of discrimination. In the past, studies have shown that defendants who kill white victims are three times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants who kill black victims. The RJA is the State’s opportunity to provide a race-neutral reason for why this is so.
Don’t be confused by misleading statements about the Racial Justice Act. You can read the law for yourself here.