Tag Archives: Racial Justice Act

When Holding A Super Majority Yields Bad Legislation

elephant on a limb

North Carolina has gone decidedly red in recent years.  After voting for Obama in 2008 along with a democrat for governor and senator we have gone red; very red.  In 2010, however, that all changed.  Republicans won majorities in both the house and the senate.  In fact, it was the first time that had been the case since the Civil War ended.

In 2012 the trend continued.  North Carolina was the only battle ground state to switch and go for Romney.  The governor’s race was, in essence, a rematch between the candidate from the 2008 election.  Except the sitting governor chose not to run and instead we saw her Lt. Governor get trampled.  In the state house?  The republicans not only held serve but they extended their majority.  To the point that they hold a veto proof majority.  In fact, they are so in the majority that the republicans are able to submit constitutional amendments to popular vote without even one democrat agreeing.

I think this level of dominance is dangerous.  Dangerous in the same way that I thought the democrats held control of the federal powers in 2008.

So far, the majority has taken to a little political payback.  The democrats, predictably, have squealed, but to be very fair, the fact that they are not getting their way after more than 100 years of uninterrupted control is a bit of righteous karma.

As I feared the republicans are using their muscle in a way and manner that would be checked with a more balanced government:

Resurrecting last session’s bruising battle over the death penalty in North Carolina, a Republican state senator on Wednesday filed a bill to wipe all traces of the Racial Justice Act off the books.

The 2009 law allowed statistics compiled statewide to be used to prove racial bias in the prosecution, jury selection or sentencing in capital cases.

Now, in full disclosure, if I could have the “Eye of God” and be certain that the guilt or innocence of an individual could be ascertained with certainty, I have no problem with the death penalty for certain crimes.  However, we do not possess this “Eye of God” certainty and, in fact, I have no more faith in the government “getting it right” when determining said innocence or guilt, or the sentence associated with that verdict, than I do with that government managing health care, or nutritional needs, or education.

In short, I don’t trust government all that much at all.

So when people tell me that the poor and minorities are subject to sentences of the death penalty in meaningful volumes, I advocate creating a law that has the ability to not change the verdict, but change the sentence from death to life in prison.

And the republicans are changing that.

And it’s wrong.


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.


Veto Override Meeting: Racial Justice Act

In 2009 North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act.  The law allows death-row inmates the ability to appeal their sentence arguing that racial discrimination was a factor in that sentence.  I’ve long argued that the death penalty is not a viable tool in our criminal justice system for just that reason.  The sentence is not applied uniformly and it disproportionately impacts minorities and the poor.

Because of this I oppose the Death Penalty and I applauded the passing of the law.

Now, however, state Republicans are meeting to discuss how they plan to proceed in overriding a governor’s veto that would have repealed much of this very important law:

 RALEIGH, N.C. — When the Republican-led Legislature considers Wednesday whether to cancel Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto and scrap the Racial Justice Act, the outcome of the override session will depend again on whether a handful of the governor’s fellow Democrats side with the GOP.

The Republicans have it wrong.  They were wrong to oppose the bill in 2009, wrong to send it to the Governor’s desk in 2011 and are wrong now.

The idea that the government would discriminate, especially in this matter, is an assault on the senses.  Hopefully the Democrats in the House stand firm and do not change their vote to assist the veto override.