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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Justice Under North Carolina’s Racial Bias Law

Justice Under North Carolina’s Racial Bias Law 
The New York Times  -  EDITORIAL  -  April 20, 2012

Marcus Robinson, who has been on death row in North Carolina since 1994, was the first person to challenge a death sentence under the state’s 2009 Racial Justice Act. That law is the nation’s first to give inmates the chance to have their sentences reduced to life without parole based on proof that racial bias played a significant role in their case. On Friday, Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that Mr. Robinson was the victim of clear discrimination in jury selection and commuted his sentence. In a careful, 167-page opinion, the judge found “race was a significant factor in decisions to exercise peremptory challenges” — the practice of dismissing potential jurors — in death-penalty cases in the state generally and in the county where Mr. Robinson was tried. Almost 40 percent of county residents were black, yet the jury was made up of nine whites, two blacks and one American Indian. Statewide, 52 percent of death row inmates (157 total) are black compared with 22 percent of state population. The judge found that “highly reliable” statistical evidence from a study by the Michigan State University College of Law showed racial discrimination in removing blacks from juries in all but four of the state’s 100 counties. He also found that state prosecutors “intentionally discriminated,” and called their statements meant to disprove bias “irrational,” “inaccurate” and “misleading.” The Supreme Court, 25 years ago, said it was the duty of the states to address racial prejudice in the administration of the death penalty. Only a small number have actually done so. The Racial Justice Act is a laudable effort and the ruling in this case corrects a gross injustice. But the persistence of racial bias in far too many states is a powerful reason that the death penalty should be abolished in North Carolina and throughout the country.

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