Two years ago, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed into law the Racial Justice Act, a high-profile bill giving death row inmates the right to appeal their sentences by using statistical evidence in an attempt to prove racial bias in their cases.
Perdue, a Democrat, is a death penalty supporter, but said she signed the measure because it "ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state's harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals — the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice."
Now, however, Perdue must decide whether to keep or repeal the Racial Justice Act. Republicans who control the North Carolina legislature on Monday (November 28) sent the governor legislation that would eliminate the law, The Associated Press reports . She has not yet indicated how she will proceed.
The GOP's repeal effort comes amid sharp criticism over the last two years from prosecutors, victims' groups and others, who say the law allows death row inmates to appeal their sentences for years, effectively creating a moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina. Prosecutors have pointed to unintended consequences, such as "white prisoners convicted of murdering white victims using the Racial Justice Act to appeal their sentences," the AP notes . Meanwhile, of the 157 people now on death row in the state, 154 have used it, the Charlotte Observer reports .
Supporters of the law, however, say it is needed and point to a raft of cases in North Carolina in which racial bias may have contributed to a defendant receiving the death penalty.
The Racial Justice Act does not allow death row inmates to challenge their convictions; it only affects their sentences. Based on the law, inmates whose appeals are successful can move off death row, but still face life in prison without parole.