Excerpt from a NC House Rep. who opposes Repeal: (Since)data are used to determine discrimination in hiring and other policies...why not for determining bias in capital cases, which often depend on subjective decisions made by prosecutors and police. (Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, who has represented defendants in capital crimes *)
N.C. House panel supports repealing Racial Justice Act
The Associated Press
© June 1, 2011
By Gary D. Robertson
A two-year-old law that helps North Carolina prisoners challenge their death sentences on the basis of racial bias would be repealed under a bill endorsed Wednesday by a divided House judiciary committee.
By a 9-6 vote, the House committee recommended to the full House to repeal the Racial Justice Act, which allows defendants to offer statistical evidence to show race played a key factor in putting a disproportionate number of people from a racial group on death row or on trial for their lives. A judge who agrees that the defendant's case is tainted could reduce a death sentence to life in prison.
Republicans have been critical of the law since it was passed by the Democratic-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue. Now in charge, GOP lawmakers have a chance to nullify the law. The bill now goes to the House floor.
"This bill is going to move us in the right direction and correct what I believe was bad legislation that was passed two years ago," Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, one of the primary sponsors of the original repeal bill, said during Wednesday's committee debate.
The measure would return the state to a standard set in a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It says a judge would have to find prosecutors or police acted with discriminatory purpose to prove racial bias.
Republican backers of the bill say the law is vague, expensive to carry out and has extended what's effectively a death penalty moratorium in North Carolina since 2006.
Nearly all of North Carolina's 158 death row inmates filed paperwork under the law seeking to overturn their sentences, including white prisoners who killed white victims. That's proof, prosecutors and other Racial Justice Act opponents argue, the law isn't working the way it should.
Committee Democrats called the potential repeal a step backward that would fail to ensure fairness for all in the criminal justice system, in particular on life-and death matters with capital crimes. A Michigan State University study showed a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white. The study also showed that out of the people on death row, 31 had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on their jury.
Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, argued that repeal supporters are ignoring the fact that race plays a role in who gets removed from capital jury pools and in the number of black people on death row. But she said white defendants also can be harmed in efforts by prosecutors to eliminate black jurors, who may be more likely to reject a death sentence, in death penalty cases.
"What saddens me the most is that people think that protection against racial discrimination is just for black people. Protection against racial discrimination is for everyone," said Bryant, who is black. "This bill is mean-spirited."
Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, said she's bothered about the use of statistics, which can focus on the case history of a prosecutor, a judicial district, county or the entire state. A prosecutor shouldn't be stained by statistics that go back a generation or longer, Stevens said, adding that legal remedies already are in place for findings of bias.
"We can use statistics from the '60s and I'll bet they're terrible, and I'm sorry," said Stevens. "If you can show me where race (bias) occurred in the judicial system and affected a decision, I'll be happy to look at that."
Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, who has represented defendants in capital crimes, cited the Michigan study and other data showing an overwhelming majority of people executed for murder and other crimes in the pre-civil rights era were black. Glazier said data are used to determine discrimination in hiring and other policies, so why not for determining bias in capital cases, which often depend on subjective decisions made by prosecutors and police.
"Those statistics reflect human behavior," he said.
Find out more about Rep. Rick Glazier's service record - find out more about his service record here He has been married to Lisë, an art teacher at Hope Mills Middle School, for 32 years. They have two children; Philip and Megan, who both live in Washington D.C.