North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act was enacted as law in response to the perceived disparity in the disproportionate number of African American criminal defendants sentenced to death. Studies, including one by Michigan State University’s law school, have supported findings that higher numbers of African American men were sentenced to death when their victims were white, or when juries deciding their fate were white. The purpose of the law was to enable those on death row, mainly African Americans, to cite that their capital convictions were based on issues of race, and thereby afford a judge the ability to convert their sentences from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors from Forsyth County are complaining that the law is too sweeping and vague, and are claiming that some non-African Americans who are facing execution are using the Racial Justice Act to get off death row. However, as defense attorneys have pointed out, it is not just the race of the defendant, or the makeup of the jury that is the basis for inequity, but the race of the victim. Murderers of white victims are far more likely to be convicted of a capital offense than if the victims are of color.
What concerns some Forsyth County prosecutors is that the number of appeals processes to which death row inmates are entitled can become extremely high. That is a legitimate claim in these times of our state and nation’s fiscal calamity. However, the taking of a person’s life by the state should not be taken lightly, either.
One of the first test cases to be subjected to the Racial Justice Act was recently taken out of contention when the judge who was hearing the case removed Isaac Stroud, an African American convicted of killing his girlfriend in 1995, from a date with the executioner. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson commuted Stroud’s sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole because of his mental illness, which prevented him from contributing to his own defense.
However, Stroud was mentally ill when he was sentenced to death initially and at the time he allegedly committed the homicide. It begs the question, why was he sentenced to death in the first place? I don’t know, but you can bet that race played a part.
The solution to inequities in the way capital punishment is dispensed is simple. Abolish the death penalty. Not only would it prevent the execution of innocent people, but it would save millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars that go towards attorney fees to appeal capital sentences and to fight the appeals. The issue of race of the defendant, race of the victim, and makeup of the jury would become moot if no death penalty was ever to be enacted.
Lawmakers at the General Assembly, especially Republicans who claim to be fiscal conservatives, should refocus their energy from diminishing the potency of the Racial Justice Act, and instead concentrate on repealing the state’s death penalty… if for no other reason than to save the state money.
Part 8 of 17, Episode V, of “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper” is now uploaded on the website: www.justice4nifong.com. A link is provided below. Be sure to view the commentary that follows this educational comic strip.