by Jeremy Leaming
A North Carolina judge ruling under the state’s 2009 Racial Justice Act reduced a death sentence to life in prison of a black man who proved that racial discrimination resulted in his sentencing.
The ruling by Judge Gregory A. Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court drew national coverage, with the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times calling it a landmark ruling. The state’s 2009 Racial Justice Act, the newspapers explain, allows “defendants and death row inmates to present evidence, including statistical patterns, that race placed a major role in their being sentenced to death.”
Reading part of his opinion from the bench, Judge Weeks said “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise preemptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors ….”
Marcus Reymond Robinson was sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a white teenager. But pursuant to the state’s Racial Justice Act, Robinson’s lawyers presented evidence that throughout the state black defendants were routinely subjected to discriminatory tactics, unlike white defendants. A Michigan State University study, for example, revealed that N.C. prosecutors used procedures to “remove blacks from juries more than twice as often as they used such challenges against whites,” The New York Times reports. Judge Weeks found that the disparate treatment was statewide.
Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, lauded today’s action, telling the Los Angeles Times, “Jim Crow never died. He just put on a suite and a robe and prosecuted and tried death penalty cases for decades. That changed today.”
N.C. prosecutors, never supporters of the state law, have vowed to appeal Weeks’ opinion.
In guest post for ACSblog, Christina Swarns and Eva Paterson examine the criminal justice system’s pervasive racial disparities, which were significantly made worse by the infamous Supreme Court opinion in McCleskey v. Kemp.