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Poll: Death Penalty Supporters are the New Minority

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A poll shows voters across party lines are concerned about racial bias in death-penalty cases; 47 percent voted for Donald Trump and 45 percent for Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. (Center for Death Penalty Litigation)
A poll shows voters across party lines are concerned about racial bias in death-penalty cases; 47 percent voted for Donald Trump and 45 percent for Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. (Center for Death Penalty Litigation)
 By Antionette KerrContact
February 12, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has long been considered a pro-death penalty state, but a first-of-its-kind poll found voters overwhelmingly believe the death penalty is error-prone and racially biased. And a majority say it should be replaced with alternative punishments.

David Weiss is a capital defense attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. He said the poll findings reflect a trend of public concern over sentencing people to death.

"And so we're seeing on the ground that the death penalty is just not really being used anymore, and I think this poll tells us why,” Weiss said. “It's because the people of North Carolina don't support it anymore."

Public Policy Polling interviewed more than 500 voters across the state, and 70 percent believe it is likely that an innocent person has been executed in North Carolina. North Carolina juries have sent one person to death row since 2014.

Weiss said lawmakers and the court system should seriously consider this poll since 61 percent of respondents said they believed the courts should re-examine the death sentences of prisoners who were tried before a series of legal reforms were enacted. That’s more than 131 individuals.

Weiss said cases filed under the state's Racial Justice Act, which uncovered evidence of statewide race discrimination in capital cases, are expected to be argued later this year.

Five people who were sentenced to death in North Carolina have been exonerated in recent years. And, Weiss said more than two dozen others have been removed from death row after the courts found serious errors in their cases, and that black jurors often were removed from the pool in capital cases.

"It's evidence that we need to face as a state and it's evidence we need to face in the courts,” he said. “And I think this poll, in part, tells policymakers, tells the courts, that this is a matter of real public concern in North Carolina."

The poll also showed that when voters considered a range of alternatives to the death penalty, including restitution to victims' families, only 25 percent of those interviewed favored the death penalty.

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