At Liberty Podcast
Hasson Bacote posing in a football jersey.
At Liberty Podcast

This Case Could Upend the Death Penalty In North Carolina

February 22, 2024

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On August 10th, 2009, the North Carolina legislature passed the Racial Justice Act, or RJA. A first of its kind law that allows people on death row to challenge their sentences if they could show race played a factor at the time of their trial. This historic legislation allowed us at the ACLU to successfully bring claims on behalf of four people back in 2012, getting their sentences changed to life without parole.

This momentum was short lived, because a year later, the North Carolina Supreme Court repealed the RJA. Then, in 2020, the court ruled that those who had already filed their cases under the RJA were entitled to move forward despite the repeal. The same year the RJA was passed, Hasson Bacote was sentenced to death in a Johnston County courtroom.

As a Black man in a deeply segregated county with a history of racial terror, Bacote’s fate was all but sealed, well before the jury issued his death sentence. Now, more than a decade after the law was passed, he will be the first to challenge his death penalty sentence under the RJA since 2020.

Beginning February 26th, Bacote’s team will argue that race not only played an impermissible role in this case but in all capital cases in Johnston County and across the state of North Carolina. The success of this case could determine our future ability to reverse more sentences and end the death penalty in the state.

Joining us today to discuss Hasson Bacote’s landmark hearing and our ongoing work to fight against the death penalty is Henderson Hill, Senior Counsel for the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.

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