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Racial Bias in NC Courts: State Supreme Court Will Weigh In

Three people on death row will have their cases considered by the North Carolina Supreme Court, after lower courts found that race played a role in their sentencing. (Marc Treble/Flickr)
Three people on death row will have their cases considered by the North Carolina Supreme Court, after lower courts found that race played a role in their sentencing. (Marc Treble/Flickr)
March 6, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. – In the ongoing saga of North Carolina's capital punishment system, the state Supreme Court will hear a case that will decide whether three defendants of color will stay on death row.

All three – Marcus Robinson, Quintel Augustine and Christina Walters – had their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2012 under the Racial Justice Act. That act was repealed in 2013 and lower court judges placed the three back on death row.

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, says dismissing the findings of racial bias and leaving the three on death row isn't in line with their rights.

"The bigger questions that we've raised, whether they can create a mechanism that says, 'We want you to go investigate racial bias, find racial bias,' and then say, 'Actually, we're not going to give you any forum to present that evidence,'" she says. "That can't be square with the Constitution."

Stubbs and other legal experts say the court's decision to hear this case marks a significant civil-rights victory. The justices will hear oral arguments from both sides and receive briefs on the cases involved.

In 2012, researchers at Michigan State University College of Law found evidence of racial bias in the jury selection, charging and sentencing of inmates of color in North Carolina.

Stubbs says the case also affects the rights of jurors of color wishing to serve their community. She recalls her conversation with one African-American man, whom she suspects wasn't selected because of his race.

"When we talked with that prospective juror, he said, 'You know, I served my country, I really value civic participation,'" she adds. "'I can't tell you how upsetting this is to think that I'm being denied the right to participate in a jury because of my race.'"

Currently, the three inmates sit on death row. North Carolina has not executed a person on death row since 2006.

According to a 2009 Duke University study, in North Carolina death-penalty prosecution would save $11 million a year if capital punishment were ended.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC