House Republicans took a bill (SB9) that had already passed the Senate and substituted new language that would radically alter the Racial Justice Act. The act was passed in 2009 and allowed death row inmates to plead to be taken off death row based on claims of racial discrimination. The inmates could use statistical and other types of evidence to show the justice system was biased against minorities. Minority groups say it is because more blacks are sentenced to death than whites.
The new Senate bill would no longer allow evidence that only paints a picture of discrimination in justice system. The inmates would have to actually prove the prosecutors considered race as a basis for a death sentence. Suspects would also no longer have pre-trial or post-hearings to make the same complaints.
Representative Larry Womble (D-Forsyth) was the sponser of the Racial Justice Act. He told a House committee considering the Senate bill it was an attempt to repeal the act:
Since the Racial Justice Act went into effect there have been 152 appeals by death row inmates. Motions for hearings have also been made in 46 cases pending trial.
District Attorney Seth Edwards, who is President of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, told the same panel prosecutors do not see race when they get a case they see a crime. He said two of his cases illustrate there is no basis for appeals based on race:
The committee approved the bill.