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Death Row Attorneys: Racial Justice Act Constitutional

February 7, 2011

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Attorneys are defending the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act (RJA) in a Forsyth County superior court today. Prosecutors are challenging the law, which allows death row inmates to claim that race was a factor in their sentencing and, if it was, to have their sentence converted to life in prison without parole.

Advocates for the RJA, such as Ken Rose, attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, say the law serves a valid purpose.

"It's clear that the General Assembly has the power, and indeed the responsibility, to make sure that the death penalty is administered in a fair way."

The RJA was created because of overwhelming research that found race did play a role in whether an inmate was sentenced to death.

Prosecutors challenging the RJA say the law portrays them as racist and take issue with wording in the law that they insist is vague.

If successful, their claim could have a far reaching impact, according to Rose.

"Those same terms are found in other death penalty statutes, and the courts likely would also have to find that the death penalty is unconstitutional."

A Forsyth County judge is currently hearing motions filed under the RJA by two death-row inmates, Carl Moseley and Errol Moses. If the judge denies the prosecution's claim that the law is unconstitutional, those inmates will be able to proceed with their cases. County prosecutors may choose to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC