August 11, 2009
NC Governor Beverly Perdue signed the Racial Justice Act this morning, saying, “”I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly. The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state’s harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”
Local prosecutors have been up in arms about the RJA. Given their false claims, there are three things that need to be made clear:
1) The Racial Justice Act will not result in anyone on death row going free. The Act explicitly states that inmates who make successful claims will be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
2) The use of statistics to prove claims of racial discrimination is nothing new. It is routine practice to use statistics in civil cases, for example in housing and employment discrimination claims.
3) It’s not just about statistics. Prosecutors will have the opportunity to present their own evidence about why they chose to seek death in a particular case. Prosecutors who can show that race was not a factor in their decisionmaking have nothing to worry about.
August 6, 2009
Last night, North Carolina became only the second state in the nation to rise to the challenge posed by the US Supreme Court in McCleskey v. Kemp, in which the Court acknowledged the existence of racial bias in the administration of the death penalty but said that states would have to fix the problem for themselves. Governor Perdue is expected to sign the bill into law.
From the Winston-Salem Journal:
The General Assembly has approved a landmark bill that will allow death row inmates to challenge the death penalty by arguing that there is systemic racial bias in the way that capital punishment has been applied.Under the bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bev Perdue, an inmate will be able to present statistical evidence showing racial disparities in how the death penalty has been used. If a judge finds the evidence convincing, the judge can overturn that inmate’s death sentence and convert it to a sentence of life in prison.
Similarly, in future murder trials in North Carolina, judges will be able to block prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty if they find a historical pattern of racial bias in the use of the death penalty.
The bill is seen by its supporters as a long-overdue solution to a history of discrimination that they say permeates the criminal-justice system and the system of capital punishment.
In an Associated Press interview, Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith attempted to sound the alarm, stating that the RJA could result in a flurry of former death row inmates being released on parole. Nevermind that the bill explicitly states that anyone who is granted relief under the act will be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In support of his claim, Keith cited the case of Bonnie Sue Clark – who was not sentenced to death and was never a death row inmate – and who was released from prison earlier this week after serving 22 years for the murder of her husband. It is particularly interesting that Keith would select the Clark case as an argument against the Racial Justice Act, given that Clark, a white woman, received a life sentence while her co-defendant, a black man, was sentenced to death. Robert Bacon was granted clemency by Governor Easley in 2001 due to concerns that racial bias played a role in the decision to seek and impose death in his case. Bacon’s sentence was commuted to life without parole. Unlike Ms. Clark, he remains and will die in prison.
August 5, 2009
Earlier tonight, the Senate chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly voted to concur with the House version of the Racial Justice Act. The vote was 25-18.
All that remains is for Governor Perdue to sign the bill into law.
August 5, 2009
It’s impossible to know what’s going on behind the scenes, but this much we do know: the Racial Justice Act did not reach the Senate floor yesterday, but it is on today’s calendar. As a practical matter, members of the General Assembly are going to go home once the budget is final, which means that if the RJA is going to pass, it will have to do so today or tomorrow.
The NC Coalition for a Moratorium is asking people statewide to contact Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) and ask him to continue his support for the RJA. Click here to send the Senator an e-mail, or call his office at (919) 733-5856.
August 4, 2009
The Senate chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly will decide today whether to concur with the House version of the Racial Justice Act, or whether to force the bill into a joint committee. The RJA would allow defendants in death penalty cases to use statistical evidence to show that race played a role in the decision to seek or impose death in their case.
The North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium says:
The North Carolina Racial Justice Act is scheduled for concurrence vote today during the Senate session at 3pm. Recent [death row] exonoree Edward Chapman will be in attendance all day to speak with legislators in swing districts.
Please come to the session, bring a friend and pack the gallery!
Please continue to contact these Senators before today’s vote:
Click here to email 8 Senators listed below
Charlie Albertson (D) 733-5705
Marc Basnight (D) 733-6854
Don Davis (D) 733-5621
Steve Goss (D) 733-5742
David Hoyle (D) 733-5734
Tony Rand (D) 733-9892
John Snow (D) 733-5875
A.B. Swindell (D) 715-3030
To follow Senate Concurrence Vote please follow NCCM on Twitter
Listen to Audio from Senate Floor
Thank you for everything you’ve done, we couldn’t have made it this far without your help!
July 26, 2009
A message from the NC Coalition for a Moratorium.
The NC Racial Justice Act is nearing the finish line!
The NC Senate will vote to concur on the Racial Justice Act next Tuesday.
Please call, fax, or email Senators… or all three! Ask that they vote to concur on RJA (S461) with no amendments or delays.
FAX AND EMAIL
Click here to fax and/or email NC Senators and ask them to concur on Racial Justice Act (S461) next Tuesday!
||Office # (919)
|Charlie Alberson (D)
|Marc Basnight (D)
|Steve Goss (D)
|David Hoyle (D)
|Tony Rand (D)
|John Snow (D)
The NC Racial Justice Act would not have made it as far as it has without your help. Thank you for everything you do!
North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium
PO Box 1008
Durham, NC 27702
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.
July 14, 2009
The Racial Justice Act has passed a second reading in the North Carolina House of Representatives. The final vote was 61 to 55.
July 14, 2009
Follow the debate on Mark Kleinschmidt’s Twitter.
Past reporting is here and here.