It has been a little over a week since the North Carolina General Assembly voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act, a landmark piece of legislation which enabled death row inmates to challenge their sentences by showing patterns of racial discrimination in the jurisdictions where they were tried.
Since then, Republican lawmakers have been accused of ignoring undisputed evidence of racial bias in the administration of the death penalty and abusing the legislative system to sneak through legislation without public oversight.
Groups including the NC-NAACP have called on Governor Beverly Perdue to veto the bill, but there has been no word from her office as of this writing. Under North Carolina law, Governor Perdue has 30 days to issue a veto. The Governor has indicated that she will make her decision next week.
Defendants have alleged a pervasive pattern of racial discrimination, both in jury selection and in decisions about which cases deserve the death penalty. It has been over a year since motions were filed presenting evidence to support these claims. Since August of 2010, the ball has been in the State’s court, but prosecutors haven’t even attempted to prove that something other than race is involved.
Rather than confront the issue head on, prosecutors have tried to delay the courts. After months of ill-founded constitutional challenges and even an attempt to prevent a black judge from presiding over the matter, the first real test of the Racial Justice Act was scheduled to begin next month. Just in time, conservative lawmakers swooped in to repeal the Racial Justice Act.
Prosecutors and lawmakers have nothing to fear but the truth being heard. If the claims made under the Racial Justice Act are frivolous, no court will hesitate to throw them out. Prosecutors claim that the RJA has placed a moratorium on the death penalty, when the reality is that the only thing preventing these cases from moving forward is prosecutors’ sandbagging of the judicial process.
- The RJA is not a get out of jail free card
Prosecutors and conservative lawmakers have circulated the false rumor that a successful Racial Justice Act claim could result in death row inmates being immediately released from prison. Never mind that the statute explicitly says that the only relief available is a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
It is constitutional for a death sentence to be converted to life without parole, even if the option of life without parole was not available at the time of the original trial. This is exactly what happens when a death row inmate is granted clemency by the governor. [For inmates sentenced prior to 1994, the jury did not have the option of life without the possibility of parole.]
Any inmate who meets the high bar of proving his claim under the Racial Justice Act will be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He will be punished, for the rest of his life, for the acts he committed, and not for the acts or omissions of anyone else. Just as justice has always intended.
Call Governor Perdue today and urge her to veto the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. The numbers for her office are (800) 662-7952 and (919) 733-2391. People of Faith Against the Death Penalty have a petition you can sign online, or you can e-mail the Governor yourself at this address
The Daily Tarheel