NC prosecutors want Racial Justice Act struck down

December 14, 2011 8:41:34 AM PST
North Carolina's prosecutors are almost unanimous in calling on legislators to repeal a law that allows defendants on death row to appeal their sentences by showing evidence of racial bias.

A group of them held a news conference in Raleigh Wednesday to shine a spotlight on their request that the state Senate strike down the Racial Justice Act.

In a letter sent Monday, the prosecutors said that if the 2009 law isn't repealed, it will severely hamper the justice system's ability to handle major cases.

They say the law is too broad and only factors in race - not the circumstances of a case. There are currently 157 inmates on death row in North Carolina. The prosecutors say all but five have filed to have their cases reviewed under the Racial Justice Act. Fifty-two are cases where the defendant was white, the victim was white, and the jury was all white.

"The Racial Justice Act was a Trojan Horse," offered Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby at Wednesday's news conference. "It was, in reality, a permanent moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina."

The prosecutors say they want an amendment to the law to make it more specific.

North Carolina Advocates for Justice, a group that supports the law, has sent its own letter to Senate leader Phil Berger asking him to reaffirm the Legislature's support the Racial Justice Act.

Sitting in the prosecutor's news conference Wednesday was Tye Hunter - an attorney who heads up the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation. He said what the DAs are really complaining about is the workload.

"It's just one thing after another to avoid dealing with our history in North Carolina," he said.

Hunter cited a study from Michigan State University which he said shows there is racial injustice and bias in North Carolina.

The DAs dispute that.

There are 44 elected district attorneys in North Carolina. Only two are African American. One of those - Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline - did not sign the request to the General Assembly asking the law be changed.

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