Court Bans Death Penalty Under Racial Justice Act in North Carolina


Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks this morning vacated Marcus Robinson’s death sentence after finding that highly reliable evidence proves North Carolina prosecutors have intentionally discriminated against African Americans in selecting capital juries. The groundbreaking ruling follows the state’s first evidentiary hearing under the Racial Justice Act, which requires that courts enter a life sentence for any death row defendant who proves that race was a factor in the imposition of the death penalty.

In a 167-page order summarized in open court today, the court detailed how “valid and highly reliable” statistical studies of jury selection in North Carolina capital cases over the past 20 years show that race has been a statistically significant factor in jury selection decisions by prosecutors statewide.

Even when controlling for “race neutral” reasons for striking potential jurors, the studies showed that prosecutors barred more than twice as many African Americans from jury service compared to other potential jurors. Being Black predicts whether the State will strike a potential juror, the court found.

The court noted that the taint of racial bias harms not only defendants and racial minorities excluded from full participation in civic life, but harms the entire community because it threatens the very integrity of the justice system.

As EJI’s Bryan Stevenson testified during the hearing in this case, Judge Weeks observed that prosecutors continue to illegally block African Americans from serving on juries, despite laws and Supreme Court decisions dating back to the late 1800s. “Race still divides us” and when prosecutors intentionally discriminate against African Americans, it “undermines confidence in the fairness and reliability” of capital verdicts.

“This decision is a critically important step forward in the struggle to recognize and condemn racial discrimination in the criminal justice system,” Mr. Stevenson said of today’s ruling.