Retired judges rightly stand up for the Racial Justice Act

January 16, 2014 

The 2009 Racial Justice Act was an uncommon but appropriately daring law to provide death row inmates in North Carolina a chance to demonstrate, through statistics, a racial prejudice in their cases and to have their sentences commuted to life in prison. Four inmates have had such commutations, but the state is challenging them following the repeal of the RJA in 2013.

Republican opponents of the law claimed it was a back door way to end the death penalty in North Carolina. Across the country, there has been a big drop in death penalty verdicts.

In North Carolina, there hasn’t been an execution since 2006, thanks to various legal challenges, and that’s good. The death penalty is the one punishment that can’t be corrected, and North Carolina has seen too many instances where it might have been unfairly applied witha twist of fate or luck here and there.

It is just not worth the trouble it takes, the time it takes and the money it takes to prosecute or the risk that an innocent person will die at the state’s hand.

Several retired judges, including three from the state Supreme Court, have filed a brief urging current high court justices to consider the “critical importance” of the RJA. In other words, they are supporting the four inmates.

Opponents of the RJA say they want families of victims to have justice – and in a timely fashion. Those opponents have conjured visions of convicted murderers being returned to the streets. That’s simply not true. The inmates who might successfully challenge their death sentences are not deemed innocent; they’re given life without parole.

That a number of retired judges would see the wisdom in the RJA is something one hopes current members of the Supreme Court will consider as they review the cases of these four inmates.

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