By Kevin King-
At the Asheville Tea Party meeting on Monday evening, District Attorney Jeff Hunt spoke about North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act. What is a little known policy on the books in NC has large consequences for the criminal prosecution procedure.
Passed in 2009 in a purely partisan vote by the Democrats, the Racial Justice Act changed the landscape of the death penalty in North Carolina. Before this act, aggravating factors involved in a case were used to seek the death penalty (ie. A murder occurred during a felony such as armed robbery.) With the Racial Justice Act in place, generalized racial statistics may now be used, regardless of the facts in the case, to keep someone from the death penalty.
DA Hunt believes that the motive behind this legislation was a backhanded way to undermine the death penalty in North Carolina. With this statistical approach allowed, a criminal can challenge the death penalty purely based on race. For example, if a minority makes up ten-percent of the population but twenty-percent of those on death row from a particular area, their sentence could be reduced to life-imprisonment.
What is dangerous, according to Hunt, is that race has no place in the courtroom. Since the 1500’s he says, justice has been portrayed with a blindfold. Justice sees no gender, creed, race or religion. A criminal case should be based purely on the facts, the burden of proof, and a jury of one’s peers.
The legal basis against something like the Racial Justice Act comes from the Supreme Court case of McClesky v. Kemp in 1987. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that generalized statistics have no place in the courtroom. Most states have used this precedent to set their legislation, however North Carolina legislators used their own agenda to define the legal system.
What can be done? The Republican legislature has attempted to amend this bill but it was vetoed by Governor Perdue. A compromise bill is in session now, but might face the same fate. Contact your local representatives if you are concerned about this issue.