The first hearing to decide whether there has been significant evidence of racial discrimination in the application of North Carolina’s death penalty was concluded on February 15. Cumberland County Judge Gregory A. Weeks, who presided over the two-and-a-half week hearing, will offer a decision based on the state’s Racial Justice Act in the next few weeks. Much of the historic proceeding focused on whether race played an improper role in jury selection on capital cases around the time of death row defendant Marcus Robinson’s trial. The focus was not on the jury that sentenced Robinson to death, but on patterns revealed in many cases. Judge Weeks’s decision will likely set a precedent for other North Carolina inmates who have also challenged their death sentences on similar grounds. Lawyers for Marcus Robinson presented findings of a study conducted by law professors at Michigan State University that concluded that qualified black jurors were struck from juries at more than twice the rate of qualified white jurors in the state’s 173 capital cases between 1990-2010. Malcolm Hunter, a lawyer for Robinson, argued, “Overt, explicit expressions of racial bias are rare,” but added that “there is a wide body of research [showing] that race has a huge effect on how we make decisions.” Neil Vidmar, a law professor at Duke University, said the case “could set quite a precedent in North Carolina—and make a lot of others around the country sit up and take notice.”

(A. Jones, “Death-Penalty Racial Law is Tested,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2012). See Race. See DPIC’s earlier post on this case.