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Racial Justice Act Repealed

June 27, 2013

Governor Pat McCrory has repealed a the Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to appeal if their death sentence was sought or obtained on the basis of race. The law, which was originally passed in August 2009, permitted death row inmates’ sentences to be commuted to life sentences without parole if they proved that their sentence was sought or obtained due to race. Four people had their sentences commuted due to the Racial Justice Act. Governor McCrory said the Racial Justice Act was “seriously flawed” and only “created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.”

The repeal of the Racial Justice Act counteracts the efforts of civil rights movements to eradicate racial disparities in the North Carolina judicial system. Of the 153 people on death row in North Carolina, 53% are African-American. African-Americans only make up 22% of the state’s population. This type of disparity is not only evident on death row; African-Americans are pulled over, searched, and arrested more than our white counterparts and account for more than 57% of the prison population.

The main argument against the Racial Justice Act is it tied up the courts and essentially put an end to the death penalty in North Carolina. But shouldn’t making sure that a person received a fair sentence outweigh the burden put on the courts? And shouldn’t the state want to make sure that a person deserves the death penalty before it executes anyone?

This is not to say the Racial Justice Act was perfect. While the Act allowed an inmate to appeal his death sentence it did not allow an inmate to appeal his conviction or seek a sentence that was shorter than life without the possibility of parole. In fact, the Act required that the defendant waive his right to seek any other remedy besides life without the possibility of parole. The Act seemed to assume that the conviction itself was not obtained on the basis of race, which is definitely possible.

Though the Racial Justice Act would not have alleviated all of the racial inequities in the North Carolina justice system, it may have been a stepping stone to solving these problems. Now that the Act has been appealed I’m not sure how we can find justice for the many minorities that have been unfairly imprisoned in this state.