NC GOP seeks sharp limits to racial justice law
Republicans in the General Assembly on Wednesday launched another attack on the Racial Justice Act, the 2009 law that allows death-row inmates to use statistical proof of widespread racial bias in North Carolina to reduce their sentences to life without parole.
A House subcommittee approved - in a split vote along party lines - a new bill that would substantially narrow the ways in which those convicted of murder could attempt to prove bias. Prosecutors and Republican legislators say statistics aren’t relevant to individual cases, and that the current law amounts to a moratorium on the death penalty.
Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican from Apex who helped write the bill, said the bill would make the law about each case individually rather than about statistics. Nearly all of the state’s death-row inmates have filed claims under the act.
“The spectacle of virtually every person on death row, who was sentenced to death as a cold-blooded killer,” filing claims under the Racial Justice Act would end, Stam said.
Racial Justice Act supporters say the bill is just a repeat of last year’s attempt to repeal the act, which Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed. The Senate overrode the veto in January, but the House didn’t have the votes to try. At the time, some House Democrats said they could support a version of the bill that addressed prosecutors’ concerns and also ensured that cases were free of bias.