Racial Justice Act for bias claims in death penalty charges repealed in NC

The Racial Justice Act that allowed North Carolina inmates to challenge their sentences based on racial bias was repealed by the state legislature Wednesday, the New York Times reports.

This legislative action may pave the way for the number of executions to increase in the state, which is bad news for the 152 people currently on death row in North Carolina.

The Racial Justice Act, which took effect in 2009, allowed death row cases to be reconsidered in favor of life in prison if evidence showed that racism was a factor in the original sentencing, trial, or jury selection.

In June of last year, a North Carolina judge used the Racial Justice Act to void the death sentences of three convicted murderers, two of whom were African-American. The cases of inmates Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters, and Quintel Augustine were reviewed under this law and it was decided that their sentencing was affected by race.

This successful repeal was not the first attempt by the state to discredit the 2009 act or the studies that it was founded on.

In 2011, North Carolina Senators approved a bill, NC Senate Bill 9, which required prosecutors to openly admit to racial discrimination for defendants to use that information in their case. And former North Carolina governor Bev Perdue vetoed legislation that would have repealed the bill last year.

Purdue said, “As long as I am governor, I will fight to make sure the death penalty stays on the books in North Carolina. But it has to be carried out fairly — free of prejudice.”

Religious and civil rights groups, including the NAACP, fought to keep the Racial Justice Act intact.

As stated in a letter from the NC NAACP: “To deny the courts this tool [the Racial Justice Act] to measure the impact of racial bias on a death penalty trial is akin to denying a doctor the ability to measure a patient’s blood pressure to diagnose her patient’s condition. Racial bias is a fact that we ignore at our own peril.”

The repeal of this act now makes it more difficult for inmates and their defense to prove that race played a role in decisions throughout an inmate’s trial, as opposed to any other factors.