April 23, 2012
Racial Bias in Death Penalty Cases: A North Carolina Test

If we still want to have a sound and sober national conversation about race and justice, if we still are eager to use a single case as a totem for what we perceive to be wrong or unjust about the criminal justice system, perhaps we all would be better served by paying attention to what’s happening in North Carolina to a man named Marcus Robinson than we are by paying attention to what’s happening in Florida to a man named George Zimmerman.
State “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws, like the one about to save Zimmerman, may be today’s fashionable example of a way in which the law is manipulated to achieve a particular result (bydesign, these ALEC-infused "affirmative defenses" allow more people to kill more people without being punished for it). But compared with the country’s long history of racial bias in jury selection, compared with all the death penalty cases that have been rigged in this fashion over the years, the new "justifiable homicide" laws have only begun to do their work.
On Friday morning, at his bail hearing, Zimmerman solemnly apologized, live on national television, to the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed young man he shot to death on February 26 in Sanford, Florida. Around the same time, 700 or so miles up the road, a state court judge in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was publishing an apology of sorts of his own: a 168-page order, an instant must-read for anyone who cares about crime and punishment, that vacated Robinson’s death sentence and re-sentenced the convicted murder to life in prison.
Actually, Cumberland County Senior Resident Presiding Judge Gregory A. Weeks’ order was more of an indictment than an apology. In meticulous detail, he explained why Robinson, who is black, deserved relief under the state’s Racial Justice Act, a laudable legislative effort designed to vindicate the rights of capital defendants whose trials are marked by racial bias. Weeks was convinced by the evidence that prosecutors had used peremptory challenges at Robinson’s 1994 murder trial to systematically remove blacks from his jury pool.
An apology. An indictment. And also a warning. Judge Weeks wrote: “In the first case to advance to an evidentiary hearing under the RJA, Robinson 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.”
Read more. [Image: AP]

Racial Bias in Death Penalty Cases: A North Carolina Test

If we still want to have a sound and sober national conversation about race and justice, if we still are eager to use a single case as a totem for what we perceive to be wrong or unjust about the criminal justice system, perhaps we all would be better served by paying attention to what’s happening in North Carolina to a man named Marcus Robinson than we are by paying attention to what’s happening in Florida to a man named George Zimmerman.

State “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws, like the one about to save Zimmerman, may be today’s fashionable example of a way in which the law is manipulated to achieve a particular result (bydesign, these ALEC-infused "affirmative defenses" allow more people to kill more people without being punished for it). But compared with the country’s long history of racial bias in jury selection, compared with all the death penalty cases that have been rigged in this fashion over the years, the new "justifiable homicide" laws have only begun to do their work.

On Friday morning, at his bail hearing, Zimmerman solemnly apologized, live on national television, to the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed young man he shot to death on February 26 in Sanford, Florida. Around the same time, 700 or so miles up the road, a state court judge in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was publishing an apology of sorts of his own: a 168-page order, an instant must-read for anyone who cares about crime and punishment, that vacated Robinson’s death sentence and re-sentenced the convicted murder to life in prison.

Actually, Cumberland County Senior Resident Presiding Judge Gregory A. Weeks’ order was more of an indictment than an apology. In meticulous detail, he explained why Robinson, who is black, deserved relief under the state’s Racial Justice Act, a laudable legislative effort designed to vindicate the rights of capital defendants whose trials are marked by racial bias. Weeks was convinced by the evidence that prosecutors had used peremptory challenges at Robinson’s 1994 murder trial to systematically remove blacks from his jury pool.

An apology. An indictment. And also a warning. Judge Weeks wrote: “In the first case to advance to an evidentiary hearing under the RJA, Robinson 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.”

Read more. [Image: AP]

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  10. auz reblogged this from theatlantic and added:
    Yay for North Carolina confronting this but its terrible that this is still a thing.
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