Politics & Government

N. Carolina takes aim at racial bias in death penalty cases

Gov. Bev Perdue on Tuesday signed a bill that will allow murder suspects and death-row inmates to try to prove racial bias was behind prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty or jurors' decision to impose it.

North Carolina is the second state in the nation with a law designed to stop black defendants from being punished more severely than whites. Kentucky is the other state.

“I have always been a supporter of the death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly,” Perdue said. “The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state's harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals – the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”

The governor said the Racial Justice Act aims to ensure that prosecutors and jurors are colorblind. It allows defendants to present statistical evidence that suggests racial bias may have played a role in their cases.

“While our criminal justice system will continue to have the death penalty, racial disparities have no place whatsoever in North Carolina's criminal justice system,” Perdue said.

Death penalty critics have long argued that black suspects, particularly those who are poor, are more likely to get the death penalty than white suspects – especially when the person they kill is white.

Recent cases of prosecutorial misconduct in North Carolina involving black defendants helped fuel demands for reform. At least two black death row inmates have been exonerated after misconduct came to light.

Read the full story at CharlotteObserver.com.