Inside Politics

NC death penalty bias law heading to governor

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Legislature has given its final approval to a bill limiting the use of statistics in a 2009 law designed to give people on North Carolina's death row another method to prove racial bias in sentencing.

The Senate voted Wednesday 30-18 in favor of the overhaul of the Racial Justice Act, which now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk. Perdue vetoed a different bill last year that would have essentially voided the law, but lawmakers couldn't override the veto.

It appears the General Assembly now has veto-proof majorities on the new bill.

The Racial Justice Act directs judges to reduce a death row inmate's sentence to life in prison if they find race was a significant factor in a case. Opponents say the changes gut the intent of the law.

"What they've done is very seriously gutted the Racial Justice Act," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, (D) Durham.

Michaux and other legislative black caucus members are blasting the push to dismantle the Racial Justice Act.

"The most important part of the Racial Justice Act has been destroyed and has been significantly limited," said NCCU Law Professor Irving Joyner.

The new Republican bill limits statistical evidence to a 10-year time frame before a crime and two years after. It also restricts those stats to the judicial district where the crime occurred and says those stats alone aren't enough to prove racism.

In a statement, State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, "Although I would prefer to see the Racial Justice Act erased from the books entirely, the sensible reforms included in this bill will preserve justice for more than 100 North Carolina families whose loved ones' lives were brutally taken.

Scott Bass, who represents murder victims' loved ones, said the law in its current form should stay. He called the Republican changes a crime against grieving relatives.

"In addition to it legally being a crime against the state, it's also a crime against their family," said Bass.

Perdue has until the end of the month to veto the bill if she chooses to do so.

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(Copyright ©2014 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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