ACLU Calls Veto of Racial Justice Act’s Repeal a “Courageous” Step Toward Eliminating Bias in Capital Punishment System

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue today vetoed a bill repealing an historic 2009 state law that would help ensure that death sentences handed down in the state were not the result of racial bias. The Racial Justice Act, repealed after a vote last month by the North Carolina state Senate, allows prisoners a hearing in which they can present statistics showing that death sentences state- and county-wide were tainted by racism and that their death sentence should be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “Gov. Perdue’s courageous decision to veto the bill repealing North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act ensures that North Carolina will not tolerate discrimination in its capital punishment system,” said Cassandra Stubbs, staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “No one should ever be given the irrevocable sentence of death because of the color of their skin or because jurors were wrongfully excluded. Racial bias has no place in the capital punishment system.” Stubbs is part of the legal team that was preparing to put on evidence in the case of Marcus Robinson when the law was repealed. The hearing in the Robinson case, the first to be held under the law, was set for Jan. 30, 2012, after a last-ditch attempt by state prosecutors to unseat the African-American judge in the case failed. The Senate’s repeal vote last month came after prosecutors had intensified their calls for repeal, unhappy with a recent Michigan State University study showing a significantly higher likelihood that prosecutors would eliminate potential African-American jurors and that defendants are more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white than if the victim is black. North Carolina, one of 34 states to maintain the death penalty, has the nation’s sixth largest death row. More than half the prisoners on the state’s death row are black.

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