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Sadly, Republicans repealed the law in 2011 but it was saved as our Governor vetoed the repeal.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.