inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they can prove
racial bias in sentencing or jury selection.
The machinery of death is ripping itself to chunks in North Carolina. Would
that this would happen in more places — like, say, California.
Conservatives and prosecutors in the Tarheel State are up in arms over a 2009
law that allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without
parole if they can prove racial bias in sentencing or jury selection — even if
the bias wasn't directed at them but at others. In other words, if convicts can
show a statistical pattern of racial bias statewide, they can use it as
evidence that their own trial may have been skewed. And they don't have to be
minorities to appeal; a white inmate who can show excessive dismissal of black
potential jurors might be able to dodge the executioner.
Opponents of the law are calling it a backdoor way to end the death penalty,
and they're probably not wrong. That's because it's not going to be very hard
for inmates to demonstrate racial bias. A Michigan State University study found
that, between 1990 and 2010, North Carolina prosecutors dismissed black
potential jurors at twice the rate of nonblacks in death penalty cases. The
case of the first inmate to test this law, convicted killer Marcus Reymond
Robinson, is currently being heard, and as Times staff writer David Zucchino
reported Wednesday, it's being watched carefully in other states. North
Carolina's law may well spread if Robinson succeeds.
It's not an ideal solution. North Carolina lawmakers had good reasons for
passing the law — there is considerable evidence of skewed juries in the state,
killers are far more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims are
white, and in 2009 there were a spate of cases in which death row inmates were
exonerated by DNA evidence. But the approach is laden with complications. For
one thing, a high dismissal rate for black potential jurors isn't necessarily
an indicator of racism; it may be that blacks distrust the justice system and
oppose the death penalty more than whites, so they are dismissed for of their
beliefs rather than their race. Moreover, North Carolina has a potential
nightmare brewing: Because the sentence of life without parole didn't exist
there before 1994, it's possible that inmates sentenced before then who
successfully overturn their death sentences could be set free.
The better way? Borrow a page from Illinois, New Mexico and other states that
have done away with the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole.
Capital punishment imposes ruinous costs on states, it can't be reversed if an
inmate is later exonerated, it's highly questionable whether it can be carried
out in a humane manner, and it protects society from killers no better than
putting them away for life. As for the possibility of racial bias in
sentencing, there probably isn't a reliable way to eliminate it. North Carolina
is going through the back door when, with more honesty and fewer complications,
it could go through the front.
(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)