On June 19, 2013, two weeks after the North Carolina legislature voted to overturn the Racial Justice Act, Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal of the historic law, which prohibited the use of race in the imposition of the death penalty.
Passed in 2009, the Racial Justice Act (RJA) requires courts to vacate a death sentence where race was a factor in the imposition of the death penalty. North Carolina was the first state to pass legislation aimed at remedying racially discriminatory practices in death penalty trials, including racial bias in jury selection.
Prosecutors vigorously opposed the law and won a repeal of the statute in 2011, but Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the repeal. In April 2012, Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks vacated Marcus Robinson’s death sentence after finding that highly reliable evidence proved North Carolina prosecutors intentionally discriminated against African Americans in selecting capital juries. The groundbreaking ruling came after the state’s first evidentiary hearing under the RJA.
In June 2012, North Carolina’s Republican-led state legislature reworked the statute to prevent defendants from relying solely on broader statistical evidence to show racial discrimination. Defendants were required to demonstrate that prosecutors discriminated in their particular case, which made it much more difficult to prove racial bias.
In December, the trial court found that Christina Walters, Quintel Augustine, and Tilmon Golphin proved that prosecutors had blocked African Americans from jury service because of their race and their death sentences were vacated. Nearly all of North Carolina’s condemned inmates have filed a motion under the RJA.
On June 5, 2013, the legislature voted again to repeal the RJA. In signing the repeal bill, which purports to apply retroactively to cases with pending RJA claims, Governor McCrory said it would remove the “procedural roadblocks” that had kept North Carolina from executing anyone since 2006 despite there being 152 people on death row.