The lead case applying the historic and ground-breaking NC Racial Justice Act (RJA) concluded today with a judicial finding of race discrimination in the operation of the death penalty in North Carolina.
North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks found that prosecutors deliberately excluded qualified black jurors from jury service in death row inmate Marcus Robinson’s case, in Cumberland County, and throughout the state.
As directed by the law, the Court stated that parole eligibility was not an option under the Racial Justice Act, and resentenced Marcus Robinson to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
In enacting the RJA, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue made clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty. The RJA represents a landmark reform in North Carolina, a state which has long been a leader in forward-thinking criminal justice policies.
With today’s ruling, North Carolina continues its leading role as a state willing to honestly and fairly examine the affect of race in its criminal justice system. A Michigan State University study of jury selection practices in North Carolina capital cases between 1990 and 2010 was introduced as evidence in the hearing. Judge Weeks found it to be a valid, highly reliable, statistical study. The results of the study, with remarkable consistency across time and jurisdictions, show that race is highly correlated with decisions on striking jurors in North Carolina.
The ruling and the findings of the MSU study are consistent with every major study of jury selection in capital cases done in the United States. Following this ruling, the NC Racial Justice Act allows for a fresh start by permitting prosecutors to remedy race discrimination through in depth training programs.
This decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina where the justice system acknowledges past discrimination and respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.