North Carolina Legislature Votes to Repeal Racial Justice Act; Governor May Veto

On November 28 the North Carolina Senate voted to repeal the state's Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences.  The House had earlier approved the repeal measure.  The Act was passed in 2009, and the first cases brought under the law are just now being considered in state court.  There were considerable shifts in the state's legislature in the wake of the 2010 elections, leading to the repeal bill.  Prosecutors had been unsuccessfully fighting application of the law in the courts and have pushed for legislative action.  The Act provides that a death row inmate who receives a reprieve through a racial discrimination challenge will receive a sentence of life without parole.  Darryl Hunt, a former inmate who spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, reminded the Senate Judiciary Committee that five of the seven inmates who have been exonerated from North Carolina’s death row were, like him, African-American.  Hunt said, “I was one vote away from the death penalty.  I had 11 whites and one black on my jury. If you think that race did not play a factor in my case, then you're not living here in North Carolina."  North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue, who signed the Racial Justice Act into law in 2009--saying it would ensure death sentences were imposed "based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice"--must now consider whether to veto the repeal.

(T. Iwabu, "Senate derails Racial Justice Act," News & Observer, November 29, 2011).  See Race and Recent Legislative Activity.