The North Carolina senate has rewritten the Racial Justice Act, a two-year-old law that allowed death-row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The rewrite goes to Gov. Bev Perdue, who signed the original law in 2009, saying it would ensure death sentences were imposed “based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”
Republican lawmakers and prosecutors tried to minimize the impact of the new version, insisting it was only a fix. Sen. Josh Stein called it “an utter and total repeal.” The vote followed a public hearing in which impassioned pleas were made on both sides of the issue from the families of murder victims and from death-penalty opponents. Prosecutors have argued that anywhere from two dozen to nearly 120 inmates now on death row could be eligible for parole under the law, even though the Racial Justice Act specifies that the only option available for an inmate who has had a death sentence commuted is life in prison without parole. Both sides cite different court cases to prove their point.