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Support Grows as Racial Justice Act Goes to Supreme Court

Photo: State Supreme Court in Raleigh. Courtesy: Center for Death Penalty Litigation
Photo: State Supreme Court in Raleigh. Courtesy: Center for Death Penalty Litigation
January 14, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. - Although the State Assembly overturned the Racial Justice Act last year, efforts to protect inmates from racial bias in jury selection continue. In coming months the North Carolina Supreme Court will decide whether it will uphold the finding that race was a factor in the jury selection for the trials of three death-row inmates who have since had their convictions converted to life in prison without possibility of parole.

According to law professor Irving Joyner at N.C. Central University School of Law, who signed one of the briefs submitted Monday to the State Supreme Court, if the juries were tainted the problem continues.

"If the selection of those jurors is unfair, then it means that whatever decision that panel makes is also unfair," he stated.

In 2012 the state appealed the rulings that race was a factor in the jury selection of four state death-row inmates. Six retired judges - including two retired Chief Justices of the State Supreme Court - filed a brief Monday urging the Supreme Court to confirm the initial rulings. The N.C. NAACP also filed a brief in support. They join other briefs of support already on file.

The State Assembly passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009, under the premise that race was a factor in the jury selection of death-row inmates in North Carolina. It was later supported by independent researchers. Law professor Joyner declared that upholding the RJA is key to maintaining fairness in the state's justice system.

"Where people are excluded because of their race, then you deny the notion of a broad, representative sampling of the population in which the trial is being held," he said.

The four RJA defendants involved have said they have evidence that trainings sponsored by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys included instruction on how to fabricate legally-acceptable ways to exclude African-Americans from juries.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC