Yesterday, a Forsyth County court found that the Racial Justice Act was constitutional. The law, passed in 2009 by the NCGA, allows a capital defendant to challenge just his sentence if he can prove that race played a substantial role in his receiving the death penalty. Prosecutors defending the use of capital punishment in two cases where RJA claims were brought tried to argue that the RJA was unconstitutionally broad and vague, but the court found that the law was within the North Carolina General Assembly’s powers as a way to address racial bias in the capital punishment system. The Racial Justice Act has overcome it’s first hurtle and the court will now start to hear arguments about whether race did play a role in these two cases.
While this is a great victory, the RJA’s days may be numbered as the new legislative leadership has indicated a desire to repeal the RJA or amend it so that it will not serve its purpose of addressing racial disparities in how death is meted out by the state. Ongoing work to defend and protect the Racial Justice Act will be necessary. Call your state Representative and Senator and ask them not to support attempts to tinker with the Racial Justice Act!