North Carolina Supreme Court Reinstates Life Sentence for Marcus Robinson

Court Refused to Ignore Evidence That Death Sentence was Tainted by Racial Discrimination

August 14, 2020 12:30 pm

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DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina’s Supreme Court today reinstated the life sentence of Marcus Robinson awarded by a North Carolina trial court that found, under the Racial Justice Act, that his death sentence was tainted by racial discrimination. The court found that the state’s attempt to strip Mr. Robinson of the life sentence previously awarded violated his constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy.

The court’s decision denounced racial bias in capital cases, noting that the discrimination in jury selection stems from the “same racially oppressive beliefs that fueled segregation” and lynchings.

“Almost exactly 11 years after the passage of the Racial Justice Act, the court’s decision to reverse Marcus Robinson’s death sentence is a critical step toward achieving the goal of that legislation: to break the link between racism and the death penalty in North Carolina,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “The evidence uncovered by RJA shined a spotlight on an ugly truth: Racism plays a starring role in determining who gets executed. The court’s decision today signifies that we will not cover up that truth. Rather, we can and will move forward and begin to heal by acknowledging it and taking steps to rectify the harm that has been caused. Of course, nearly 50 years of data have shown that there is no way to extricate racism from the death penalty — the punishment has no place in a country that values fairness, justice, and equality.”

The RJA was passed in 2009 and led to the uncovering of substantial and troubling evidence about the ways racial bias infects jury selection in capital cases. Following the passage of RJA, Marcus Robinson became the first person to successfully litigate his claim of racial bias under the law. The law was repealed in 2013 and the repeal was made retroactive. After the law was repealed, Robinson was sent back to death row without a new trial — a first in the state’s history.

Today’s decision comes two months after the court issued a sweeping order in North Carolina v. Ramseur, restoring the full protections of the Racial Justice Act for people who filed claims before the law was repealed in 2013. Everyone in the state’s death row who filed claims under the RJA will get new hearings according to the June ruling. Today’s ruling takes that decision a step further, confirming that Robinson will not have to re-litigate an already successful claim.

The decision is online, here.

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The Racial Justice Program (RJP) fights to eradicate racial injustice in the U.S. and works to foster a society in which people of color and communities of color have full access to the rights and benefits of American society. Working with affected communities, RJP litigates, advocates, and educates to strike at the roots of racial injustice.