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Racial Justice Act repealed
McCrory signs bill to terminate death sentence appeals
 
Published Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:03 am
by The Associated Press

RALEIGH Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature Wednesday repealed a landmark law that had allowed convicted murderers to have their sentences reduced to life in prison if they could prove racial bias influenced the outcome of their cases.


McCrory signed a repeal of the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which both proponents and critics say will restart the death penalty in a state that hasn’t executed an inmate since 2006.


McCrory’s final signature – announced in a news release just before 6 p.m., with the Racial Justice Act bill noted only by its number: S.B. 306 – followed months of debate. Republicans say it was so poorly crafted that it has allowed nearly all of the state’s 156 death row inmates to launch appeals regardless of their race. They say the law impedes the will of unanimous jury decisions. McCrory raised similar complaints in a statement.


“The policy implementation of the law was seriously flawed,” he said. “Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act.”


Democrats argue there’s plenty of evidence that those juries were racially biased.


They cite a Michigan State University study of North Carolina that found evidence of prosecutors striking black people from capital cases at more than twice the rate of others over two decades.


They also point to the 2012 decisions of a Cumberland County judge to reduce the sentences of four convicted murderers on racial grounds. Three of those rulings came after a rollback of the act that restricted the use of statistics to prove prejudice.


The repeal of the Racial Justice Act was one of 56 bills McCrory signed into law Wednesday. It was a quiet end for legislation that produced repeated, bruising political battles.


In a controversial mailer distributed to voters in Democratic districts, the N.C. Republican Party suggested that the Racial Justice Act would allow death row inmates to go free and move next door to residents.


In 2011, the newly GOP-dominated General Assembly passed a bill gutting the act but could not override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto. A year later a bill severely restricting how the act could be used became law after surviving a veto.


“I’m disappointed the law has gone through,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Democrat from Charlotte. “Many folks fought long and hard to bring equality to capital punishment. I support capital punishment, but I also want to give everyone an opportunity to spare their life before they are put to death by the state.”

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