It’s Not Just the Alaska Legislature: North Carolina
Ordinarily WC finds enough folly in the antics of the Alaska Legislature to permit him to largely ignore the antics of the other forty-nine. But sometimes the temptation proves to be too great.
The North Carolina state legislature – the same group that seemingly denies sea level rise is occurring – has reverted to type when it comes to criminal justice, race and the death penalty.
Background - The Racial Justice Act
In 2009, North Carolina enacted the Racial Justice Act. The law allowed death row inmates to ask a court to review their death sentences for jury selection bias. There are about 170 inmates on North Carolina’s death row; essentially all of them exercised their new rights under the Racial Justice Act.
Understand, if the inmates win they would get a life sentence without possibility of parole. They wouldn’t get a new trial. They wouldn’t be acquitted. They wouldn’t be released, ever. They just wouldn’t be executed.
To get their death sentences changes to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the inmates would have to establish systematic bias by the prosecutors in selecting jurors. That is, the inmates would have to establish that prosecutors, in “striking” or “excusing” otherwise qualified jurors, displayed plain racial bias, resulting in an unrepresentative jury.
Only one case made it through the full hearing process under the Racial Justice Act, a case involving Marcus Reymond Robinson. And in that one case, the trial judge found jury selection bias by the prosecutors. How bad was the jury selection bias? According to a study by Michigan State University or 172 capital cases, the prosecutors’ conduct was extreme:
Across all strike-eligible venire members in the study, prosecutors struck 52.6% (636/1,210) of eligible black venire members, compared to only 25.8% (1,594/6,185) of all other eligible venire members. This difference is statistically significant, p < .001; put differently, there is less than a one in one thousand chance that we would observe a disparity of this magnitude if the jury selection process were actually race neutral.
African-Americans were twice as likely to be booted off the jury as Caucasians. There was egregious prosecutor bias in jury selection, not just in Marcus Robinson’s case but as a part of a pattern across 172 death penalty cases. In April 2012, the trial judge in Robinson’s case moved Robinson off death row, putting him in prison for life instead, without possibility of parole.
What the North Carolina Legislature Did
The reaction of the North Carolina legislature was, in the ACLU’s phrase, to gut the Racial Justice Act. While it was labelled a reform, it was a practical repeal. Twice, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed the “reform” bill. The third time, the North Carolina legislature overrode her veto, and the Racial Justice Act is now gone.
Incredibly, one of the arguments in favor of repudiating the Racial Justice Act was that the law had “created a logjam” on executions. Never mind of the extremely strong evidence that the convictions were wrongfully obtained. Never mind that there is overwhelming evidence of misconduct by the prosecutors. Never mind that North Carolina is turning its back on that evidence. Never mind that by any sensible standard, the State of North Carolina has no business killing these inmates. The Racial Justice Act was delaying executions. North Carolina can’t have that. And now it doesn’t.
There’s a pattern here. The North Carolina Legislature has an aptitude, a willingness, a zeal to set short term goals ahead of reality.
In the case of oceanside housing construction, it’s denial of a rising sea level because that might result in higher building costs, or make some properties undevelopable. In the short term, the problem is solved. In the longer term, people and property will be endangered. When the next big hurricane comes in; when projected sea level rises occur; the short term solution will blow up in the face of the State of North Carolina. Properties are likely to be destroyed, with attendant property loss and risk of injury .
In the case of death penalties, people will be dead. People who are on death row because of prosecutor misconduct. People will be dead because prosecutors are infected with racial bias. But, by golly, the log jam to killing death row inmates will have been removed. Even if you see nothing wrong with the death penalty – quite a different debate – you should see something wrong.