The Racial Justice Act of this state was the first of its kind. And since its enactment in 2009, some lawmakers have been gunning for it. Now, they’ve gotten their wish. The Racial Justice Act will be repealed, pending a signature from the governor.
The law gave recourse to death row inmates who said their convictions or sentences were based, in part, on their race. Sure, there were problems with the law—that sent all N.C. death row inmates to appeal their convictions based on racial bias—but repealing it altogether is an injustice itself.
Leading up to the vote last week in the legislature, hundreds of people were gathering daily in downtown Raleigh, protesting its repeal and the general conservative nature of the current legislature. The day before its final debate, 151 people were arrested at local protests.
“It’s incredibly sad,” said Representative Rick Glazier of the repeal. “If you can’t face up to your history and make sure it’s not repeated, it lends itself to being repeated.”
Glazier is speaking, of course, to the racially skewed history of the state of North Carolina, within the justice system in particular.
In the few years since its passage, two judges have used the Racial Justice Act. In Cumberland County, a judge used it to reduce sentences in four different cases, commuting them to life without parole.
Opponents of the Racial Justice Act have said it allows data unrelated to a specific case to have too much weight on the outcome of that case. In 2012, lawmakers took some teeth out of the act by limiting how statistics could be used in cases and also placing a stronger burden of proof on the inmate appealing his case.
“It tries to put a carte blanche solution on the problem,” said Representative Tim Moore, a Republican who opposed the Act. “A white supremacist who murdered an African-American could argue he was a victim of racism if blacks were on the jury.”
While it has taken opponents four years to repeal the act, this isn’t likely to be the last we’ll hear of it. With several cases affected by it during those four years, we may see future action at the state supreme court level. Likewise, inmates who believe racism played a role in their sentence may seek relief elsewhere too.
In many communities within our state there remains an unequal enforcement of the law. But regardless of who you are and where you live, you have rights like any other American. Contact our office today if you are facing criminal charges and are in need of representation.