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RALEIGH – Today North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 306, legislation that fully repeals the historic Racial Justice Act, which allowed death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and receive life in prison without parole if they could show evidence that racial bias was a factor in their sentence. Four death-row inmates have been resentenced to life in prison after a judge found that racial discrimination played a key role in securing their sentences.

“The Racial Justice Act brought to light undeniable proof that North Carolina’s death penalty system is plagued by racial bias,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “By repealing this law barely four years into its existence, North Carolina’s leadership has willfully turned its back on widespread evidence of systemic racial bias that needs to be addressed – not ignored. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and without bias. Sadly, North Carolina’s lawmakers have just undone the best tool our state had to achieve that goal.”

In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future."

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RALEIGH - Yesterday, the North Carolina Senate gave final approval to S.B. 306, a bill that will repeal what remains of the Racial Justice Act (RJA), a landmark civil rights law that allows death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and seek life without parole if they could demonstrate that racial bias played a role in their sentence. The bill now heads to Governor Pat McCrory for his signature. Contact Gov. McCrory here to ask him to veto S.B. 306, and watch the video below to learn more about the disturbing role of racial bias in North Carolina's death penalty system.

In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future."

The heart of the statistical evidence presented in the Robinson case from a comprehensive study by researchers from Michigan State University that showed that state prosecutors in North Carolina were significantly more likely to strike potential jurors who were African-American. In a related study, the researchers found that defendants are much more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white than if the victim is black.

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RALEIGH – On Wednesday, June 5, the North Carolina House of Representatives approved S.B. 306, a bill that seeks to restart executions in North Carolina and would repeal the Racial Justice Act (RJA), a historic civil rights law that seeks to address racial bias in the state’s death penalty system by allowing death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and receive life without parole if they can show that race was a factor in their sentencing. The North Carolina Senate has already approved the bill once, and it now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) released the following statement:

“The Racial Justice Act has made it possible to shine a light on widespread and indisputable evidence of racial bias in North Carolina’s death penalty system that needs to be addressed,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston. “It would be beyond tragic if North Carolina turns its back on that evidence and haphazardly rushes to restart executions, knowing full well that our capital punishment process is plagued by racial bias and other flaws that might very well lead to the execution of innocent people. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and with respect for due process, yet this bill makes it harder, if not impossible, to achieve that goal.”

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By Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

In 2009, North Carolina made history by becoming the first state to pass a law that addressed the systemic problems of racial discrimination in jury selection in capital cases. In the three years since the Racial Justice Act (RJA) was enacted, this law has uncovered systemic discrimination. In four cases, North Carolina death row inmates presented sweeping evidence that racial discrimination in jury selection tainted their trials, and had their death sentences converted to life without parole under the law.

For the last year, the North Carolina legislature has been working to overturn this important legislation – the most recent threat to justice coming this week with the vote by State Senate repeal the RJA. North Carolina needs to preserve the RJA, as it should serve as model legislation that all states should adopt to stamp out the racial discrimination that runs rampant in capital cases nationwide.

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