North Carolina Governor Vetoes Racial Justice Rollback Legislation

On June 28, North Carolina's Governor, Beverly Perdue, vetoed legislation that would have essentially repealed the state's Racial Justice Act (RJA), a law allowing death row inmates to challenge their death sentence based on statewide patterns of racial bias. The law Gov. Perdue vetoed would have removed the possibility of showing bias based on these sophisticated studies. The governor said, "As long as I am governor, I will fight to make sure the death penalty stays on the books in North Carolina. But it has to be carried out fairly — free of prejudice.”   Of the first ruling under the RJA, Gov. Perdue said, ”The judge's findings should trouble everyone who is committed to a justice system based on fairness, integrity, and equal protection under the law. Faced with these findings, the … General Assembly could have tried to strengthen our efforts to fix the flaws in our system. Willfully ignoring the pernicious effects of discrimination will not make those problems go away."  (Read Governor's full veto statement below). UPDATE: On July 2, the NC legislature overrode Gov. Perdue's veto.

In the first case under the Racial Justice Act, Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that Marcus Robinson's 1991 trial was so tainted by the racially-influenced decisions of prosecutors that he should be removed from death row. Robinson’s attorneys cited a study conducted by two Michigan State University law professors that compared death penalty cases across North Carolina over a 20-year period. The study found that prosecutors eliminated black jurors more than twice as often as white jurors and that a defendant is nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white.

Governor Vetoes Senate Bill 416
Senate Bill 416, “An Act To Amend Death Penalty Procedures”

"As long as I am Governor, I will fight to make sure the death penalty stays on the books in North Carolina.  But it has to be carried out fairly – free of prejudice.

Three years ago, North Carolina took steps to achieve this result by passing the Racial Justice Act.  In response to the enactment of this historic law, our State has rightfully received national acclaim for taking a positive and long overdue step to make sure racism does not infect the way the death penalty is administered.

Last year, Republicans in the General Assembly tried -- and failed -- to take North Carolina backwards by passing a bill that would have undone the Racial Justice Act. This year’s Senate Bill 416 is not a “compromise bill”; it guts the Racial Justice Act and renders it meaningless.

Several months ago, a North Carolina superior court judge ruling on a claim brought under the Racial Justice Act determined that racial discrimination occurred in death penalty trials across the State over a multi-year period.  The judge’s findings should trouble everyone who is committed to a justice system based on fairness, integrity, and equal protection under the law.  Faced with these findings, the Republican majority in the General Assembly could have tried to strengthen our efforts to fix the flaws in our system.  Instead, they chose to turn a blind eye to the problem and eviscerate the Racial Justice Act.  Willfully ignoring the pernicious effects of discrimination will not make those problems go away.

It is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”

(E. Dalesio, "Perdue votes NC death penalty bias law rollback," San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 2012). Read DPIC's Summary of First Ruling Under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act. See Race. Listen to our podcast on Race.