North Carolina Racial Justice Act

Four North Carolina death row prisoners have now had their sentences changed to life in prison without parole under the state’s Racial Justice Act (RJA) after a judge determined that race played a part in their jury selection. The state appealed the decision, and the cases are now pending with the North Carolina Supreme Court. 

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act (RJA) allows capital defendants to challenge their death sentences if they successfully prove that race was a significant factor in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty at the time of their trials.

Claims of racial bias in cases brought under the RJA are supported by a comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and other, similar studies in North Carolina and southern states.

Cases brought under the RJA

North Carolina v. Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters, and Quintel Augustine: In December 2012 a North Carolina judge held that prosecutors in these three defendants’ cases impermissibly relied upon race in its jury selection practices. The judge commuted all three defendants’ sentences to life without parole.
Read more here.

North Carolina v. Robinson: In April 2012, a North Carolina judge found statistical evidence of racial bias in the death penalty, commuting the death sentence of Marcus Robinson to life without parole in this landmark case.

Petitions Filed Under North Carolina’s Historic Racial Justice Act: On August 3, 2010, five North Carolina death row inmates filed claims under the RJA Act. Their cases are based on specific incidents of racial bias as well as statistical evidence from three new comprehensive studies of the death penalty in North Carolina.


These studies show:

Racial Bias in Jury Selection: The MSU study of jury selection found significant evidence that North Carolina prosecutors select juries in a racially biased manner. Prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove qualified African-American jurors at more than twice the rate that they excluded white jurors. Of the 159 inmates now on death row in North Carolina, 31 were sentenced by all-white juries, and another 38 had only one minority on their sentencing juries.

Racial Bias in Prosecutorial Charging Decisions and Jury Sentencing: The MSU study of capital charging and sentencing found that those who kill whites are more likely to get the death penalty than those who kill blacks. The MSU study found that a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white.

Read the studies:

Michigan State University College of Law - Report on Jury Selection Study

DPIC: Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina, An Empirical Analysis: 1993-1997

North Carolina Law Review: Race and Death Sentencing in North Carolina, 1980-2007


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