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N.C. Racial Justice Act near repeal
Lawmakers vote for death row rollback
 
Published Monday, June 10, 2013 10:07 am
by Herbert L. White

North Carolina is poised to restart capital punishment.


Last week, lawmakers voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act while adding protections for healthcare professionals who assist with executions.
The N.C. House of Representatives on June 5 passed its version of the Capital Punishment/Amendments bill, S 306, by a 77-39 margin. The vote was largely along party lines, Rep. William Brisson of Bladen County the only Democrat to join Republicans. The bill is now in the Senate, which is expected to concur.


Supporters of the RJA, which passed in 2009, contend the law is a hedge against racial prejudice in how capital cases are prosecuted and sentenced. State courts have upheld the law and four RJA petitioners have had their death sentences commuted to life without parole.


“North Carolina's Racial Justice Act - which forced our state to look squarely at the racism in our criminal justice system - was a major step in our efforts to repair the breach of slavery and Jim Crow in our state,” N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber said.  “Our courts found the act constitutional, and that, indeed, there were acts of blatant racism involved in the sentence of death to men on death row."


Opponents argue the RJA, which 152 of 156 death row inmates have used to appeal their sentences — including white killers of white victims convicted by all-white juries — led to a de facto death penalty moratorium.


The RJA was modified in 2012 when the Republican-dominated General Assembly stripped provisions from the law, which made N.C. the only state to allow convicts to use race as a reason to reduce the death penalty.


“The Racial Justice Act was important both symbolically, our state acknowledging its history of racial bias, and practically, undoing the damage of that same racial bias in the cases of scores of people living on death row,” said Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. We are not discouraged. No campaign for justice travels a smooth road.”

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