I admit I did a little dance this past Wednesday when SB 306 “Capital Punishments/Amendments” passed the NC Senate. SB 306 would not only end the moratorium of the death penalty in NC but it would also repeal the Racial Justice Act. The journey from introduction to committee and back to the floor was an emotional roller coaster not only for me but especially for the Lowry, Turner, and Howell families that Civitas has been working closely with to show who “The Real Victims of the Racial Justice Act” are. I knew there would be some opposition to the bill on the floor, but the statements made by the bill’s opponents made me wonder if they thought the Racial Justice Act had to do with the guilt or innocence of the convicted criminals rather than race or justice.
Sen. Thom Goolsby (R- New Hanover), the author of SB 306 asked Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird (D- Chatham) several times whether or not the Racial Justice Act is linked to the guilt or innocence of a particular defendant. Sen. Kinnaird’s responses all three times did not answer the question. Sen. Goolsby looked frustrated and seemed to realize that the potential innocence of convicts is a recurring theme in these debates when it is in fact irrelevant to the legislation; however, this theme demonstrates that RJA can not be defended on its merits and content. Supporters of the Racial Justice Act must resort to, “you-never-know-they-could-be-innocent” argument. This tactic may reveal how some people think the Racial Justice Act should be used. The Racial Justice Act is applicable to people who have been found guilty of first-degree murder, have been sentenced to death, and have been through several appeals processes.
Sen. Kinnaird continued her speech on why SB 306 should not be passed. There was a continued theme of talking about the potential innocence of these convicted killers. At one point, Sen. Kinnaird even said that “…the jury may have been biased and it would have affected the guilt or the innocence.” If Sen. Kinnaird actually believes this is true, was a Freudian slip or an ulterior motive? The Racial Justice Act is intended to be used for convicted killers to suggest there was racial bias in jury selection and to commute their sentence to life in prison — not to grant them a new trial.
Once again, it was proven on Wednesday that the opposition of SB 306 does not understand what the Racial Justice Act really is. The Racial Justice Act was intended to counteract supposed racial bias in capital case. The content of the Racial Justice Act is so ambiguous, however, that the use of the law reaches far beyond the intention of dispelling racial bias.