Yesterday, SB 416, Amend Racial Justice Act, cleared a House Judiciary subcommittee on an 8-6 party line vote. This action comes off of a failed attempt to repeal the act last year, when legislators were unable to override Perdue’s veto of the repeal. The changes to the bill come relatively soon after a Cumberland county case where, under the Racial Justice Act, the judge converted a convicted murderer’s sentence from death row to life without parole. The defendant, Marcus Reymond Robinson, was able to do so via the use of evidence showing racial bias in the judicial process. In the aftermath of the act, nearly all of the inmates on death row have filed claims under the act. Debate on the amendments to the Act was limited during committee yesterday, but was heated nonetheless. Opponents of the changes argued that they were not included in the interim committee’s extensive study of the bill and that the bill is being rushed through for party line purposes. Legislators also referenced the Cumberland Co. case multiple times, where statistics showed that black jurors were stricken from cases nearly twice as often as white jurors.
So what does all this mean exactly? It means that if passed, the Act will narrow the ways that death row inmates can attempt to show racial bias in their cases: statistics would be restricted to the county or prosecutorial district where the sentence was given, and the evidence used must fit within a two year time frame prior to when the crime was committed. With so many convicted murderers claiming racial injustice in their trials, how can we be ensured that malicious murderers receive the sentence they deserve? The death penalty is their given sentence, but the current Racial Justice Act allows them a potential outlet to avoid it. Let’s just say, life without parole is much less intimidating than being sent to death row, and these convicts will likely use any escape route they can – let’s not continue to outright hand them one.