North Carolina Racial Justice Act

The world is a bad and ugly place.

We are living among thieves and murderers.  To be sure, this has been the sad state since Cain And Able and represents no new change in the nature of man.  Brutality seems to be an inherent aspect of who we are.

Equally true is our desire for for justice and revenge; some say “a reckoning.”  And this is why we have laws that allow us to impose death on people who commit the most horrible and unthinkable crimes.  The idea is that society can remove from itself the most violent members in order to keep the rest safe.

All of this has been with us since time immemorial.

By itself this combination of brutality and justice can cast an interesting debate.  A debate I suspect that can rage just as long as man is brutal.  But this isn’t about THAT debate.  This is about the “serving of justice” on an equitable basis.

Some time ago North Carolina identified that the death penalty was disproportionately being used on the basis of race.  Not that more black guys were being sentenced to death than white.  But that of defendants found guilty, blacks were sentenced to death more often.

And THAT is intolerable.

However, in order to begin to remedy this situation, North Carolina pass the Racial Justice Act:

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act of 2009 prohibits seeking or imposing the death penalty on the basis of race. The act identifies types of evidence that may be considered by the court when considering whether race was a basis for seeking or imposing the death penalty, and establishes a process by which relevant evidence may be used to establish that race was a significant factor in seeking or imposing the death penalty. The defendant has the burden of proving that race was a significant factor in seeking or imposing the death penalty, and the state may offer evidence to rebut the claims or evidence of the defendant. If race is found to be a significant factor in the imposition of the death penalty, the death sentence will automatically be commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Sadly, Republicans repealed the law in 2011 but it was saved as our Governor vetoed the repeal.  Happily Republicans didn’t have the votes to override the veto.

And yesterday the first case to win under the law was decided:

Fayetteville, N.C. — A Cumberland County Superior Court judge made history Friday morning when he commuted a death row inmate’s sentence in the first test of North Carolina’s fledgling Racial Justice Act.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks ruled that race significantly influenced jury selection in Marcus Robinson’s 1994 trial in the 1991 shooting death of a white 17-year-old, Erik Tornblom.

The ruling means Robinson, a 38-year-old black man, will be taken off death row and will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Weeks said Robinson’s attorneys “presented a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, persuasive and distorting role of race in jury selection in North Carolina.”

“When the government’s choice of jurors is tainted with racial bias, that overt wall casts down over the parties, the jury and the court to adhere to the law throughout the trial,” Weeks said. “The very integrity of the court is jeopardized when a prosecutors discrimination invites cynicism respecting the jury’s neutrality and undermines public confidence.”

I have no idea if Mr. Robinson really took the life of that kids all those years ago [though the Racial Justice Act did not show that race was a factor in verdicts].  If he really did commit that act, I have little issue with him being sentenced to death.  However, when guilty criminals benefit from sentencing based on race, I DO begin to have an issue with that.

Well done North Carolina.

 

6 responses to “North Carolina Racial Justice Act

  1. I have trouble with the death penalty due to both the possibility of human error (innocent people being convicted, often with the evidence seeming overwhelming) and the fact it seems to be retribution. That said, I can understand it in severe cases — serial killers, recidivists, and cases that show such moral depravity and inability to be rehabilitated that death seems necessary to protect the living. But how to make those calls is for me really tricky. One young man that kills another in some kind of street violence or something like that doesn’t rise to that level — to me that’s more a symptom of social problems in the community than a reason to sentence someone to death. But I don’t think these are easy calls to make.

    As to your greater point — I agree that it becomes easier for people to sentence others to death if they seem different than oneself. Race can contribute to that, and if it does that’s a problem – and it’s good for North Carolina to recognize that and try to remedy it.

    • I have trouble with the death penalty due to both the possibility of human error (innocent people being convicted, often with the evidence seeming overwhelming)

      I have the same issues. In the same way that the government is unable to get most things right I have no illusions that they can get the death penalty right either.

      and the fact it seems to be retribution. That said, I can understand it in severe cases — serial killers, recidivists, and cases that show such moral depravity and inability to be rehabilitated that death seems necessary to protect the living.

      I strongly believe that men can do things that should result in their death by the harmed. Society is entitled to protect itself from the very dangerous.

      I agree that it becomes easier for people to sentence others to death if they seem different than oneself. Race can contribute to that, and if it does that’s a problem – and it’s good for North Carolina to recognize that and try to remedy it.

      Yup.

      And, to be fair and clear, it is the sole work and benefits of the Democrats. Republicans are fighting this every inch of the way.

    • Scott wrote: “I have trouble with the death penalty due to both the possibility of human error (and) innocent people being convicted…”

      Why are we so paranoid with the thought of innocent people being executed? We must get it from books and the movies, because only in a fictional land does a truly innocent person ever make it to death row. In order for me to even be a suspect in a felony, I first need to commit a boat load of lesser crimes. It is these misdemeanors that bring attention to myself and make me a suspect to future crimes.

      Do innocent people really end up in jail? I thought about that last night. I would really like to hear from folks that claim to be innocent. Are they really innocent or just pseudo innocent?

      • Do innocent people really end up in jail? I thought about that last night. I would really like to hear from folks that claim to be innocent. Are they really innocent or just pseudo innocent?

        I do think that there are people in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. To your point, what crimes [if any] did they commit to raise suspicion? Who knows.

  2. I think the proponents of the “racial justice act” chose the wrong test
    case to apply this new law. Saving a man who even the judge believes is
    guilty of kidnapping and murdering a teenager is not politically sensible.
    http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2012/05/07/judge-reduces-penalty-death-row-inmate-racial-justice-act/

    • Saving a man who even the judge believes is
      guilty of kidnapping and murdering a teenager is not politically sensible.

      Hi Jay.

      No one denies the man is guilty. What proponents are saying is that a white man would have a greater chance of life without parole than the death penalty. Blacks in North Carolina disproportionately receive the death penalty for the equivalent crime.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *