The Fayetteville Observer reports, "A defense lawyer predicts the repeal of the Racial Justice Act will flood courts with constitutional challenges." It's by Paul Woolverton.
Prosecutors say the families of murder victims will receive long-delayed justice now that North Carolina has clarified its execution laws and repealed its controversial Racial Justice Act.
But a capital punishment defense lawyer said he thinks the new legislation, signed by the governor on Wednesday, will do the opposite of what its advocates intend. Instead of restarting executions, he predicted the law will fill the courts with new constitutional challenges and add years to the state's de facto moratorium on executions as death row inmates argue that capital punishment is inherently unjust.
North Carolina executions were halted in January 2007 by legal challenges to the state's execution protocols. These remain unresolved in the courts.
The Racial Justice Act was enacted in 2009. It gave death row inmates a new opportunity to allege that racism influenced their cases. Those that won had their death sentences converted to life in prison without parole.
Critics contended the courts were clogged with Racial Justice Act cases. They say inmates without valid racism claims were using it simply to postpone their executions. Inmates of all races on death row filed claims.
Four inmates, all from Cumberland County homicides, used the Racial Justice Act successfully to commute their sentences. The state has appealed their cases. Another 144 inmates out of the 153 on death row had Racial Justice Act claims pending before Wednesday's repeal.
The repeal is intended to stop all pending claims.
That gives those 144 inmates a new issue to challenge in the courts, said Ken Rose, a defense lawyer for the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation. He thinks it's unconstitutional and illegal to take the Racial Justice Act away from any inmate who has a claim pending.
"NC death penalty cases in limbo after Racial Justice Act's repeal," is the WRAL-TV report by Amanda Lamb and Kelly Gardner.
No one knows for sure when executions will resume in the state or what will happen with pending claims of racial bias from most of the 153 people on death row.
On Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a controversial piece of legislation that fully repeals the Racial Justice Act, which allowed death-row inmates to have their sentences reduced to life in prison if they could prove racial bias influenced the outcome of their cases.
Since 2009, four death-row inmates have been resentenced because of the law.
The latest measure ensures death-row inmates can't file new claims, but observers say it's likely the court system will decide whether the law should be applied retroactively.
"Everyone who has made a claim under the Racial Justice Act is probably going to have to litigate over whether or not they continue to have a claim," said Sarah Preston, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
Preston says the claims were filed under a valid law and that she believes defense attorneys are going to argue that the cases should proceed.
As for its repeal, Preston says she is disappointed and thinks there is plenty of evidence to show that racial bias plays a role in capital murder trials.
For example, a Michigan State study found evidence of North Carolina prosecutors striking black jurors from capital cases at more than twice the rate of others over two decades.
"We think that essentially this legislature is sweeping evidence of racial bias under the rug, and it's really disappointing," Preston said. "Instead of looking at the cases that have passed as evidence of the necessity for the law, they have decided that it's evidence that the law should be repealed."
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby also says he expects the matter to end up in the appellate courts.
WITN-TV posts, "McCrory Speaks Out About Decision To Repeal Racial Justice Act."
The governor spoke to the media after the ribbon cutting at the children's hospital in Greenville. He said it was necessary to do away with the law. which he says many district attorneys agreed would be best.
"It was really going against the wishes of juries by unanimous vote adding to another level of loopholes which I don't think created the justice that we needed in North Carolina, so I was following the lead of a bipartisan group of DA's throughout the state," said McCrory.
Earlier coverage of North Carolina's repeal of the Racial Justice Act begins at the link.