NC prosecutors seek an end to ‘Racial Justice Act’





North Carolina’s elected prosecutors are seeking the legislature’s assistance in overturning one of the worst travesties to ever pass through Jones Street:

The Legislature should act quickly to repeal a new law that gives death row inmates another way to challenge their sentences on the grounds of racial bias, North Carolina’s district attorneys argue in a letter to state senators.

” … if you do not address this issue quickly, the criminal justice system will be saddled with litigation that will crush an already under-funded and overburdened system,” wrote Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle, president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

The letter was sent Monday and addressed to Senate leader Phil Berger. It also went to all senators, said Peg Dorer, executive director of the conference. Forty-three of the 44 elected district attorneys support a resolution calling for the changes, Dorer said. Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline didn’t sign the resolution, the conference said.

The Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates and defendants facing the death penalty to use statistics and other evidence to show that racial bias played a significant role in either their sentence or in the prosecutors’ decision to pursue the death penalty. The law says an inmate’s sentence is reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if the claim is successful.

A study by two law professors at Michigan State University found a defendant in North Carolina is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims was white. The study also showed that of the 159 people on death row in the state at the time of the study, 31 had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on the jury.

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Nov. 27 to work up to three days on several possible items. The Legislature’s adjournment motion allows lawmakers to consider bills during that period that are awaiting a concurrence vote, which means senators could vote on the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. Kentucky is the only other state with such a law.

Doyle’s letter cites four reasons that the law should be repealed: white inmates are taking advantage of the law; the cost is prohibitive; it created a quagmire in the courts; and contrary to what the law says, some inmates could be released if sentenced to life without parole.

“I challenge you (to) see RJA for what it really is, not a search to eliminate bias, but a backdoor deal to end the death penalty in North Carolina,” Doyle said.

A good friend of mine — who happens to be an elected D.A., a Democrat, and an opponent of the RJA — relayed a story to me about an incident that occurred while the then-Democrat-controlled legislature was debating the RJA.  His state senator — also a Democrat — called him to seek his opinion on the legislation.  My friend made some comments to his senator that pretty much mirrored Doyle’s comments in the above story.  The senator thanked my friend for his time and input, and left my friend the impression that the senator would vote against the RJA when it reached the Senate floor.  (Of course, the senator fell in line with his caucus leaders and voted FOR the Racial Justice Act. )

If there was a problem with evidence or trial procedure, that’s one thing.  Reducing a murderer’s sentence because some politicians thought his trial did not meet some convoluted racial quota is an outrage that disrespects the memories of the victims and their families.

My D.A. friend was convinced that the RJA was a sweetheart deal for the defense attorneys and liberal activists.  Common sense and decency, for quite a long time, have been locked away in a closet somewhere in the Legislative Building.  There have been a lot of common sense sightings along Jones Street this year.  Let’s hope for more through the end of the year and into the new year.

Repeal this horrible mistake ASAP.