Override Of Veto Possible
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
The suspense ended last week when Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the N.C. General Assembly’s bill repealing the Racial Justice Act of 2009.
But the question now is, will the legislature return for a special session in January to vote on an override of her veto?
The House actually passed the bill during the regular session in June, and the Senate added its approval during a special session in late November.
Since the November action, Perdue has been studying the bill and weighing her options. By law, the governor must call the legislature back into session by Jan. 8 to consider an override.
Sen. Harris Blake and Rep. Jamie Boles, both Moore County Republicans, voted in favor of the repeal bill, officially named “An Act to Reform the Racial Justice Act of 2009 to be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McClaskey v. Kemp.”
“The law just compounded the expense to government,” Blake said Thursday of the Racial Justice Act.
Blake said the name of the 2009 bill is misleading and called it “just a preamble to doing away with the death penalty in North Carolina.” He said the bill has done nothing more than cause further delays in the criminal justice process.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with such an issue,” Blake said. “I know the governor had to struggle with this. It’s not easy.”
Blake called the Racial Justice Act unnecessary and said the state now has adequate protections through the appeals process and modern scientific technology to make sure an innocent person is not put to death.
Boles said he was unsure about the legal process required for calling the legislature back into session. The General Assembly is already scheduled to reconvene in February for consideration of other vetoes, recess resolutions and routine matters. Lawmakers will reconvene in May for the 2012 regular short session.
Perdue is on record as favoring the death penalty. However, she said last week that she signed the Racial Justice Act two years ago because “it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”
Boles said the legislature’s November bill does not actually repeal the act. He said the bill tweaks the original bill to bring it into compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The tweaking was based on one interpretation of a Supreme Court decision that anyone convicted of murder between Oct. 1, 1994, and Dec. 1, 1998, would be eligible for release after 25 years. The court ruling called it unconstitutional to increase a sentence to life without parole.
“SB 9 (the repeal bill) does not keep convicted criminals from appealing their sentence on the grounds of racial bias -— it simply clarifies that state courts must use the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court, ensuring murderers cannot manipulate statistics or use arbitrary data to avoid justice,” state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said.
The Senate’s top Republican said the reforms adopted by the legislature in November represent an effort to ensure that death row inmates are never eligible for parole.
“As much as Gov. Perdue claims to support the death penalty, she knows the Racial Justice Act and her veto are back-door bans on capital punishment,” Berger said. “This is the same double-speak we’ve heard all year from a politician focused more on pandering to the left wing of her party than governing responsibly.
“Gov. Perdue has a moral duty to uphold public safety for the people of North Carolina and preserve justice for the families of victims murdered in the most heinous crimes — and she has failed. The Senate will override her veto to ensure hardened criminals cannot be released.”
House Majority Leader Paul Stam called Perdue’s veto “a miscarriage of justice” and said it would have the effect of a moratorium of six years on implementation of the death penalty.
“Once again she has demonstrated her lack of understanding of the law enforcement needs of our people by thwarting the will of almost every elected law enforcement official in the state,” Stam said.
House Speaker Thom Tillis likewise decried the veto and accused the governor of putting politics ahead of principle.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney issued a brief statement supporting the governor’s veto.
“Racial prejudice has no place in the sentencing of people convicted of serious crimes. Gov. Perdue deserves our thanks for taking a strong stand for justice with her veto today,” Hackney said in a statement released Wednesday.
Hackney, an Orange County Democrat, represents a district that includes one and a half precincts in Moore County. He is a former speaker of the House.
The Racial Justice Act was passed in response to complaints that the death penalty is more likely to be applied to minority races because of racial prejudice. In cases where racial prejudice is proved to be a factor in the death penalty sentence, the law provides that the prisoner be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Since its passage, district attorneys across the state have pushed for repeal, with complaints that the result has been a messy clogging of the appeal system. Reports indicate that almost all of the 158 prisoners on death row have filed papers for a review of their cases, including one white man convicted of killing another white man.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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