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Fight Continues for Racial Justice Act in NC

November 18, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - It's been a back-and-forth fight this week for the state's groundbreaking Racial Justice Act.

On Monday, the State Conference of District Attorneys asked the state Senate to repeal the law. On Thursday, North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People fired back with a letter to Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, seeking to protect the law, which passed in 2009.

The Racial Justice Act allows North Carolina death-row inmates to argue that race was a factor in their sentencing. If successful in proving their case, their sentence would be converted to life in prison without parole. Dick Taylor, chief executive officer of North Carolina Advocates for Justice, says the state's district attorneys are meddling with the justice system and should allow inmates to argue their cases.

"Why shouldn't we let the court hear the evidence and decide whether that's in fact the case. One of the reasons that our court system works is because we have safeguards to look behind what's happened."

This attempt to get the state Senate to repeal the law outside of the legislative calendar comes just as the first Racial Justice Act hearing moves forward. That hearing was scheduled for earlier this week in Cumberland County, but was continued until January at the request of prosecutors.

Taylor says the attempt is out of line.

"I hope that the North Carolina Senate will leave that alone, let the court process run its course and then do whatever they wish to do in the spring in the regular course of business."

The Racial Justice Act was based on numerous studies that found race is a significant factor in sentencing. Under the act, no death-row inmate could ever be released from prison.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC