February 12, 2011

North Carolina’s Controversial

Last fall, our own Nathan Koppel wrote about a 2009 North Carolina law that allowed death row inmates to challenge their convictions by showing that the convictions were racially biased.

As Koppel wrote, the law was controversial, and likely to be challenged in court.

Well, the law called the Racial Justice Act has survived its first serious challenge. On Thursday, a judge in Forsyth County rejected arguments by prosecutors that the law was too sweeping and failed to comply with the North Carolina Constitution.

Two North Carolina death-row inmates, Errol Duke Moses and Carl Stephen Moseley, are using statistics and findings from a Michigan State University study to claim racial imbalance and bias played a role in their trials and sentencing.

Their cases are the first of the 154 death row inmates seeking relief under the law to get to a courtroom. Prosecutors in the case earlier this week attacked the law, saying it was too sweeping to apply fairly across the state, according to the News & Observer story.

An assistant district attorney, argued that the law does not specify exactly how race is to be considered in evaluating the bias claims. He objected to the fact that one of the two defendants, Moseley, a white inmate convicted of killing white victims, was alleging racial bias played a part in his sentencing.

Defense attorneys argued that that a broad law was exactly what the legislature intended. “In North Carolina, we have a societal interest in addressing a history that has been marred by racial discrimination,” said Paul Green, one of Moseley’s attorneys.

Lawyers will now move to the bias claims.

That said, according to the News & Observer story, the law could be in jeopardy in the political arena.

Republicans who gained control of the state Senate and House in January have talked about either severely narrowing the reach of the act or repealing it all together.

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