Nothing New In Debate on Racial Justice
Forgive the yawning. The state's district attorneys just announced that they want legislators to immediately repeal a 2009 law allowing death row inmates in North Carolina to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias.
"If you do not address this issue quickly, the criminal justice system will be saddled with litigation that will crush an already underfunded and overburdened system," Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle, president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, wrote to state Senate Leader Phil Berger.
The group of DAs said that it would be presenting a resolution to legislators to the same effect.
This would be the same group of state prosecutors that last year said, "What you're ending up saying is that the jury is racist in its decision."
This is a "monumental task probably bordering on catastrophe because it's so much, and we've got no resources to deal with this at all," the prosecutors added at the time.
In 2009, as legislators considered the proposal, the district attorneys' take was that using statistics to show racial bias was "disingenuous" and "scientifically unsound."
In other words, the state's prosecutors have been opposed from the outset to this additional and new step of review for death sentences in North Carolina.
As for this "crush" and "burden," it's worth noting that there were 157 inmates on death row in North Carolina as of early September.
Two years ago, Superior Courts in North Carolina considered 101,382 felony cases. Those courts held 2,572 criminal trials.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals considered 2,126 cases that same year.
So, what exactly is new here?
Well, it appears that House leaders and the House Republican caucus would be more than happy to repeal the law. Senate leaders aren't so enthused.
The latest from the district attorneys is as much about House Republicans trying to pressure their Senate counterparts as it is about prosecutors suddenly discovering some new downside to the law.
Senate leaders appear to have little appetite for revisiting the 2009 debate. They remember the divisive, heated rhetoric. They worry that a repeat could hurt them with moderates and independents.
What might change the equation is if courts interpret the law in a way that wasn't intended.
The law is focused on the death sentence, not innocence or guilt. If racial bias is found as a part of the review allowed by the law, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is substituted.
Some legal analysts question whether the law will hold as intended for a death row inmate sentenced before North Carolina began handing out sentences of life without the possibility of parole.
But that kind of ruling has yet to be made. It's speculation and legal theorizing.
Right now, there is nothing new in this debate, unless prosecutors turning up the volume of their yelling amounts to something new.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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