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Governor Pat McCrory signed more than 50 bills into law on Wednesday – among them Senate Bill 306. Senator Thom Goolsby’s bill (Capital Punishment/Amendments) eliminates the use of statistics in weighing whether a death row inmate’s sentence was race-related, effectively repealing what remains of the rja-repealRacial Justice Act. SB 306 also seeks to end North Carolina’s defacto moratorium on the death penalty.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina criticized the Governor’s decision to sign the bill saying North Carolina has turned its back on evidence of widespread racial bias that must be addressed in our judicial system:

“The Racial Justice Act brought to light undeniable proof that North Carolina’s death penalty system is plagued by racial bias,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “By repealing this law barely four years into its existence, North Carolina’s leadership has willfully turned its back on widespread evidence of systemic racial bias that needs to be addressed – not ignored. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and without bias. Sadly, North Carolina’s lawmakers have just undone the best tool our state had to achieve that goal.”

Governor McCrory said in a statement the implementation of the RJA was “seriously flawed”.

But since the RJA was enacted, four death-row inmates have been resentenced to life in prison after a judge found that racial discrimination did indeed play a key role in their sentences.

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Members of the state House gave final approval Wednesday to Senator Thom Goolsby’s bill repealing the Racial Justice Act. Democrats argued that the legislation was still needed because of racial bias in the judicial system.

Republicans rejected appeals to amend the bill, which passed third reading 77-39.

If the Senate approves the changes made by the House, the legislation goes to Governor McCrory’s desk.

To watch a portion of the debate click below:

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The good folks at the ACLU-NC issued this statement late yesterday regarding the House’s passage of SB 306 – the bill to repeal the Racial Justice Act:

“The Racial Justice Act has made it possible to shine a light on widespread and indisputable evidence of racial bias in North Carolina’s death penalty system that needs to be addressed,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston. “It would be beyond tragic if North Carolina turns its back on that evidence and haphazardly rushes to restart executions, knowing full well that our capital punishment process is plagued by racial bias and other flaws that might very well lead to the execution of innocent people. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and with respect for due process, yet this bill makes it harder, if not impossible, to achieve that goal.”

In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future.”

The ACLU of North Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the guarantees of individual liberty found in the United States and North Carolina Constitutions and related federal and state civil rights laws. With more than 11,000 members and supporters throughout the state and an office located in Raleigh, the organization achieves its mission through advocacy, public education, community outreach, and when necessary, litigation.

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