Prosecutors Brace for Long Line of Racial Bias Claims

Lisa Miller, WFAE-FM (Charlotte), August 4, 2010

Death row inmates in North Carolina have begun filing motions challenging their sentences on the grounds of racial bias. Under the 2009 Racial Justice Act, defendants can use statistical data to show that racial bias helped put them on death row.

At least 12 death row inmates and dozens of other defendants facing murder trials have filed motions, according to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

The group’s director, Peg Dorer, expects a flurry of challenges before August 10th. That’s the deadline for death row inmates to file claims of racial bias.

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The Racial Justice Act {snip} allows defendants to use statistical evidence to show race played a factor in their sentencing. Kentucky is the only other state that has a similar law.

Since the law was signed last year, a couple of statistical studies examining the cases of the state’s death row inmates have been released.

One conducted by Michigan State law professors found that people are nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death in North Carolina if they’re found to have killed a white person as opposed to a person of another race. The study also found prosecutors in the state dismissed qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate at which they dismissed white jurors.

Dorer says a couple of white defendants have already filed motions. The five death row inmates who filed this week are all African Americans who are convicted of killing whites. According to the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation, three of them were found guilty by all-white juries.

The inmates are asking the court to commute their death sentences to life in prison without probation.

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