Over 90 percent of convicted murderers on death row have filed to have their death sentences revoked under the misnamed “The Racial Justice Act” (RJA) or Senate Bill 461. The impact of the bill – passed by what some refer to as the “most liberal Legislature” in North Carolina history – is now being felt statewide.
North Carolina is only the second state in the country to pass a RJA and the first to include a statistical test in the application and appeal of the death penalty. It is a process that will be so complex and time consuming that the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Fiscal Research Division of the NC General Assembly respectively submitted “that they are unable to estimate the fiscal impact of this bill but believe that the impact would be substantial.”And “potential costs of SB 461 could be significant, but is not able to estimate the cost.” The potential costs to the state are so ill defined and large that they can’t even be estimated.
This legislature not only passed billion-dollar tax increases to balance the budget in 2009, but also passed this social policy in 2010, effectively opening a door that one day may allow convicted murderers back on the streets.
The RJA originally started out with bi-partisan support as it would have ended the four-year old death penalty moratorium. But by the time the bill made its way through committees and the floor, it turned into a completely partisan bill with only Democratic support. The bill did not get rid of the death penalty moratorium, but may have effectively eliminated the use of the death penalty in North Carolina.
Public support in NC for the death penalty is very strong. An April 2010 Civitas poll had 70 percent supporting and 20 percent opposing, with 10 percent unsure when asked, “Do you support or oppose the death penalty for violent crimes,” by the NC Conference of District Attorneys. The Legislature chose to ignore the professionals charged with prosecuting crimes and support a liberal agenda to end the death penalty.
In North Carolina, as throughout the nation, the law is supposed to be blind. That is why the statue of justice wears a blindfold. Equal protection under the law has been the guiding light that governs jurisprudence in the United States and over time we have improved the administration of justice by making it color blind and more transparent. The facts of the case were to be what is considered by a jury and not the age, race, or sex of a defendant. That has been true up until now. The recently passed RJA has, by statute, introduced race into the prosecution and punishment of a crime in for the first time ever
Defendants are now allowed to claim “statistically” that they were discriminated against in seeking or applying the death penalty. Guilt is no longer an issue. Race has been specifically brought into prosecutors and judges considerations. To statistically prove that race is involved the murderer can use four geographical areas from which to get statistics: the entire state, if that does not work; the Judicial Division, which is how Superior Court Judges are assigned, if that does not work; the Prosecutorial District, which is from where District Attorneys are elected, if that does not work they can then use the county. They get these four different statistical attempts to stop a death penalty on top of the already 40 defense and safety mechanisms now built into the system for death penalty cases. Wake County District Attorney Colin Willoughby (D-Wake) commenting on the potential effect of the bill said, “This bill will create witnesses out of statistics.”
The current group of murderers appealing to have their death sentences overturned is a great group. Not one is arguing innocence. Not one is mentioning the victims of their criminal acts. That includes people convicted of multiple murders like Henry Wallace convicted of killing nine young women, most of them raped and strangled.
While we read of people being wrongly convicted for crimes, there has been no case in the modern era where it has been shown that an innocent person was put to death. The NC Legislature, at least the legislators who voted for the RJA want the death penalty to go away. They should be honest and vote to do away with the death penalty, not try to kill it by costing the taxpayers millions and preventing justice from being carried out in an expeditious and fair manner.