North Carolina Racial Justice Act

Started by heidi salazar, July 02, 2009, 01:35:17 AM

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heidi salazar

July 02, 2009, 01:35:17 AM Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 02:54:41 AM by Heidi
Controversial death penalty bill advances

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

By Winston-Salem Journal

RALEIGH (MCT) -- A bill aimed at reducing racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty advanced another step in the N.C. General Assembly yesterday.

Supporters of the bill, which is known as the "North Carolina Racial Justice Act," say that it would combat racial bias by giving defendants and death-row inmates clear legal procedures to argue that race played a significant role in decisions to impose the death penalty.

But the bill is controversial because of the way it would allow defendants and inmates to use statistics to try to show racial bias.

The bill would allow them to use data from other death-penalty trials within the same county, prosecutorial district, judicial division or the state at large. For instance, a black defendant might argue to a judge that, statistically, blacks are much more likely than whites to receive the death penalty in one or more of those jurisdictions. The statistical evidence alone would be enough for a judge to throw out the death penalty for that defendant -- regardless of the particular facts of the defendant's case.

Supporters say that the bill is necessary to overcome a legacy of systemic bias in the criminal-justice system that has been especially pronounced in the realm of capital punishment. Murders involving black defendants, or white victims, or both, are more likely to result in death sentences.

The bill's sponsors also said that defendants would have to meet high standards before a judge would rule that race played a significant role in decisions to impose the death penalty.

''I just want to re-emphasize that the burden of proof in this act is with the defendant," said state Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth. She and Rep. Larry Womble, also D-Forsyth, are two of the bill's biggest advocates.

''This is a bill for fair sentencing," Parmon added. "And it's been around a long time, and it's time for us to move forward on it."

The legislature is doing just that, but the bill is far from a sure bet to pass into law. Yesterday, the bill was approved by a key judiciary committee in the N.C. House. The committee's vote was 7-6.

It must go through one more committee before coming up in the full House, where Republicans plan to oppose it aggressively, and some conservative Democrats may be unenthusiastic about the bill.

''I think it will be close," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake and the House minority leader. "We will fight it hard."

Another test for the bill is in the N.C. Senate. That chamber previously approved a version of it, but the bill has undergone significant changes since then that may make it less palatable to some senators.

The bill's opponents argue that it would, in effect, create racial quotas for the death penalty. The bill's supporters dispute that claim.

Under the bill, a defendant charged with first-degree murder could use the bill's procedures to challenge either a prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty or a jury's decision to issue a death sentence. It also would give all current death-row inmates one year to challenge the death sentences in their cases on the basis of race.

If a death sentence were thrown out, it would be automatically converted to a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division estimates that the bill could cost the state $2 million to $6 million in new expenses based on the additional appeals that would likely arise in death-penalty cases.


July 02, 2009, 09:00:21 AM Last Edit: July 02, 2009, 09:13:30 AM by Moh
I hope this bill gets voted down. Apart from having a highly dubious moral and statistical basis, it seems bound to cause a load of litigation and, consequently, another protracted delay in implementing the death penalty in North Carolina.

However, the bill could lead to something unintended by its supporters. If you want to eliminate any remote possibility of racial bias tainting the use of the death penalty, then one way of doing so would be to seek, without exception,  the death penalty for all capital-murder defendants. This would likely lead to an increase in the number of death-row inmates of all races.


I hope this bill gets voted down. Apart from having a highly dubious moral and statistical basis, it seems bound to cause a load of litigation and, consequently, another protracted delay in implementing the death penalty in North Carolina.

I concur Moh..  And I'm disappointed in the changes to the some of the bill's language - which was to have "kick started" executions being performed.

heidi salazar

Racial Justice Act Passed In North Carolina House and Senate

On July 15, the House of Representatives of North Carolina voted 61-53 to pass the Racial Justice Act. A similar bill already passed the state senate, though that bill contained an amendment to bypass some objections to the state's execution process.  The new law, if finally approved, would allow judges to consider whether racial bias played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty.  "This is a fairness bill," said Rep. Larry Womble, the Forsyth Democrat who helped champion the bill. "If we're going to kill people, we must be as fair and objective as we can. This allows one more chance for justice to be blind. ... It's not a get-out-of-jail free card for anybody."

Studies in North Carolina and elsewhere have shown that defendants are much more likely to be sentenced to death if they killed a white victim than if they had killed a black victim.  In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court held in McCleskey v. Kemp that, unless new legislation was passed, defendants would have to do more than just show the presence of racial disparities through studies.  The U.S. House of Represenatives passed a similar Racial Justice Act on two occasions that would have applied to all states, but the Senate did not pass the bill.  The only other state to pass a Racial Justice Act is Kentucky, where the law allows challenges on a pre-trial basis rather than through appeals.


Please pardon my stupidity, but is this gonna get the Tarheels off the dime and get them to take care of business?  Is it a start?  Admin Jeff? JeffB?


Unfortunately, I don't think the Tarheels are going to get back to business any time soon, Harold...
JT's Ridiculous Quote of the Century:
"I'm disgusted with the State for even putting me in this position."
-- Reginald Blanton, Texas death row.  As of October 27, 2009, Reggie's position has been in a coffin.


Unfortunately, I don't think the Tarheels are going to get back to business any time soon, Harold...

I'm afraid JT's right..  The final version of the bill that passed the House vote left a lot to be desired.  A month or two ago, it looked like executions would resume fairly quickly as some ongoing issues were resolved by previously included language.  However, it appears that that language was deleted by the authors/sponsers in order to secure the bill's passing (the house is controlled by democrats).  So, unfortunately - it not only looks as if executions will not resume so quickly; rather, the Racial Justice Act will add layers to legal challenges during the appeals process.   ??? :-[ :-X


heidi salazar

Family Of NC Murder Victims Back Racial Data Bill

By AP, NBC17, 1
Updated: Jul. 20 10:29 am

Some North Carolina residents who lost family members to crime but oppose the death penalty are backing state legislation to allow a judge to consider data supporting racial bias.

Crime victims' families are taking part in a rally at the state capitol in Raleigh on Monday to support the measure. The bill would allow defendants to try to prove that race was a significant factor in a death sentence or in a prosecutor seeking the death penalty. A judge who agrees could limit a sentence to life in prison without parole.

Opponents say it won't work and would discourage prosecutors from seeking capital punishment.

The legislation is now being considered by the Senate, which approved an earlier version of the bill.


Every death row inmate could get a new chance to appeal their cases if legislators pass the North Carolina Racial Justice Act.

The law would allow inmates to claim race was a significant factor in seeking the death penalty against them.

The Senate could vote on the bill later this week.

On Monday, some families of murder victims got in on the debate.

A group that is against the death penalty, said it supports the legislation.

"A vote for the Racial Justice Act is a vote for us," said Andre Smith, father of a murder victim. Smith does not support the death penalty. His 21-year-old son was stabbed after an argument at a Raleigh nightclub in 2007.

His son's killer got more than 20 years behind bars and Smith said he was fine with that. He said he believed there was racial bias in death penalty cases and wanted that to end.

"We do believe the person who did the crime, should do the time," Smith said. "We're not saying they shouldn't do the time. What we're saying is that it needs to be fair."

Tom Fewel's said he felt the same way. His daughter was kidnapped and killed while she was on her way to school.

"I'm not here to tell you that any district attorney or law enforcement officer in this state is a racist," Fewel said. "We have evidence that there is racism in this system and this is just one chance the state can take to say are we about to make that mistake again."

Officials said the Racial Justice Act could potentially allow all death row inmates to appeal their case based on racial discrimination.

"What this bill does is allow them to show that someone else has been discriminated in a different county in the district, different district in the state and somehow that proves that they have been discriminated against," House Minority Leader Rep. "Skip" Stam said.

Stam is against the bill and so is the Association of District Attorneys.

They said it would allow white and black death row inmates to claim they were sentenced to death at disproportionate rates compared to other white murderers and black murderers. And it would allow the male inmates to say their sentences are disproportionate to female murderers.

Opponents also said they felt the bill would basically extend the moratorium on executions, while supporters hope so.

(source: WTVD News)
JT's Ridiculous Quote of the Century:
"I'm disgusted with the State for even putting me in this position."
-- Reginald Blanton, Texas death row.  As of October 27, 2009, Reggie's position has been in a coffin.


Racial Justice Act passes, now goes to Perdue

By James Romoser


Published: August 6, 2009

RALEIGH - 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.

Opponents, including prosecutors and victims' groups, say that the bill substitutes statistical data and historical trends for the particular facts of a case. It will, they say, set up an enormous roadblock for capital punishment and reopen old wounds for the families of murder victims.

The bill, which supporters named the N.C. Racial Justice Act, has been the subject of intense debate and legislative wrangling for months. Last night, the N.C. Senate voted 25-18 to adopt a version of the bill that had been approved by the N.C. House last month. In both chambers, Republicans opposed the bill, and most Democrats supported it.

The Senate's vote sends the bill to Perdue, a Democrat. A spokesman for Perdue said that she will closely review the bill but is likely to sign it.

If she does, North Carolina will become just the second state -- after Kentucky -- to enact a law allowing challenges to the death penalty on the basis of statistical disparities from previous cases.

"The need for this bill is self-evident," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "It is critically needed to correct any type of conduct that might be impermissible when it comes to the imposition of the death penalty."

The bill's passage is a victory for two Winston-Salem Democrats, Reps. Larry Womble and Earline Parmon, who have been pushing it for more than two years.

Its fate was uncertain until the very end. Some Senate Democrats, including the majority leader, Sen. Tony Rand, were skeptical of the bill, and legislators had postponed voting on it several times in recent weeks.

Last night, it was the last bill of the day for the Senate to take up. Just before the vote, Democrats called for a recess and met privately for nearly an hour. When they emerged, they passed it with little debate.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, the Senate minority leader, said that broad statistics are not relevant to decisions about whether to impose the death penalty in specific cases.

"What this does is it places the determination of a significant part of first-degree murder cases into the hands of statisticians, regardless of what the facts are," Berger said.

Tom Keith, the district attorney in Forsyth County, has warned that he and other prosecutors will have to stop pursuing the death penalty because they do not have the resources to constantly defend statistics-based claims of racial bias.

Capital punishment has been under a de facto moratorium in North Carolina since 2006 because of several legal challenges. Recent court rulings have tried to resolve those challenges and have moved the state closer to a resumption of executions.

The act allows defendants and death-row inmates to use statistics or other evidence to argue that race was a factor in decisions to request or impose the death penalty. The statistics can come from other death-penalty cases in the state as a whole, or in the local jurisdiction of the person making the challenge.

In 1987, in an influential case known as McCleskey v. Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the sort of statistical evidence that the bill allows. But the court's decision permits state legislatures to pass laws that allow statistics to count as evidence of bias.

Supporters of the bill point to numerous studies, both nationally and in North Carolina, that have shown racial disparities in capital punishment. Statistically, cases involving black defendants, or white victims, or both, are more likely to end with a death sentence.

In 2001, two UNC professors found that defendants whose victims were white were 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants whose victims were black.

Opponents of the bill dispute the methodology and the conclusions of that study and others. They say that statistical racial disparities can be explained by factors other than racial bias.

Supporters said that no one will go free because of the bill -- if a challenge is successful, the only thing that will happen is that a sentence of life in prison will be substituted for a death sentence.

There are 163 people on North Carolina's death row.

■ James Romoser can be reached at 919-210-6794 or at



This bill seems like it will foist an unworkable travesty upon the wheels of North Carolinian justice. It is absurd. What's next? Will race have to be taken into account now for non-capital murderers? Manslaughterers? Rapists?

As I wrote in a post above, prosecutors in North Carolina might as well just ask for the death penalty in every single capital case so that there isn't the slightest whiff of racial bias.


I personally don't know why race WOULD be and issue..  A case should be argued on its merits..  If the case qualifies as a capital case because first degree murder was committed with aggravating factors, or special circumstances as it applies to the relevant statutes, then the death penalty should be sought regardless of race, creed, religion, or gender.

Granny B

His son's killer got more than 20 years behind bars and Smith said he was fine with that. He said he believed there was racial bias in death penalty cases and wanted that to end.

"We do believe the person who did the crime, should do the time," Smith said. "We're not saying they shouldn't do the time. What we're saying is that it needs to be fair."

What is "fair" about the murderer still being alive and your child being dead forever?
" Closure? Closure is a misused word in the English language.  There is no such thing as closure for the family of a murder victim.  There will never be any closure for the death of our loved ones until we are dead ourselves.  The families have a lifetime sentence of anguish and sadness." 
Susan Levy


DA: Bias test an attempt to end death penalty

Posted: Aug. 6 5:17 p.m.
Updated: Aug. 6 6:38 p.m.

Raleigh, N.C. -- Legislation that would allow statistical evidence to establish racial bias as the reason prosecutors sought or jurors imposed death sentences could do away with capital punishment in North Carolina, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Lawmakers gave final approval to the so-called Racial Justice Act late Wednesday. Gov. Beverly Perdue has indicated she would sign the measure, making North Carolina the second state - Kentucky was the first - with a bias test to challenge death penalty cases.

"For the first time, as a matter of public policy, the General Assembly has essentially stated that race should not be a consideration in the imposition of the death penalty," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, the bill's sponsor. "We're going to be out front in this country in ridding our nation of these types of problems."

The proposal would allow inmates on death row and future defendants in capital cases to use statistics to argue their death sentences were racially motivated. Current inmates would have one year to appeal their sentences under the bill.

A University of North Carolina study found defendants were 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to die for killing a white person than for killing one of any other race.

"It was concern that we needed to rid our system of the prejudices that might be exercised," McKissick said, adding that he thinks it would be extremely difficult to eliminate all racial bias in the justice system.

Prosecutors statewide have opposed the legislation, saying it will make trying capital cases exorbitantly expensive, which could deter district attorneys from seeking the death penalty in any case.

"It's a thinly veiled attempt to get rid of the death penalty and cloak it in racial terms," Willoughby said. "It doesn't matter about the race. Showing some statistical abnormalities about the numbers in one case or the other can be used by anyone, irrespective of race."

North Carolina hasn't executed an inmate in three years because the death penalty has been tied up in legal disputes over the role of physicians in executions and state officials' approval of protocols for carrying out a death sentence.

Willoughby and other prosecutors said they fear setting convicted killers free. Almost half of those on death row were sentenced for crimes committed before guidelines were adopted in 1994 that eliminate the possibility of parole for life sentences in murder cases.

He pointed to the cases of James Edward Thomas, who killed Teresa West at the Sir Walter Raleigh Tourist Home in 1986, and Elmer McNeill, who with his brother killed two Food Lion clerks during a 1993 robbery. Thomas is black and West was white; McNeill and his victims were white.

"It certainly will be difficult to go back and look at cases 15 to 20 years ago, to somehow prove the actions that juries took were biased," he said. "In most of those, we don't know what race the jurors were. We don't know what went on in the jury room during the deliberations, and to assume that for some reason that there was some racial bias, I think, is insulting and false."

McKissick said the law wouldn't allow anyone out on parole, saying any death sentences found to be flawed would be converted to life in prison without parole.

"(Releasing prisoners) is not the intent of the bill. That is not the purpose of the bill. It's just to make sure that, when people are sentenced to be killed, it's done without regard to race," he said.

Willoughby said he thinks the bill will make it difficult to sentence anybody to death in North Carolina.

"I think it will put the brakes on," he said. "This case is an example of an attempt to manipulate statistics to achieve some social goal, which is to do away with the death penalty."

Reporter: Stacy Davis
Photographer: Greg Clark
Web Editor: Matthew Burns
Copyright 2009 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

This pretty much sucks..  As a DP advocate and a North Carolinia, I'm very disappointed.  And I agree with Willoughby, that we may no longer have the DP in NC even though it is an available punishment option...   >:(


August 08, 2009, 05:26:40 AM Last Edit: August 08, 2009, 01:53:15 PM by Mastodon
They'll be handing these out to many of the inmates:

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