Racial Justice Act
The Racial Justice Act (RJA) was originally signed into law by Governor Beverly Purdue in 2009. The law gave those sentenced to capital punishment the opportunity to present statistical data of racial bias in the selection of jurors and in charging and sentencing practices. The act was amended in 2012 in an attempt to limit the data available to defendants to challenge their convictions, and was ultimately repealed in 2013. Despite the 2013 repeal, there are still over 150 post conviction motions pending, filed before the repeal, in courts across the state. Prisoners who filed initial RJA claims are hoping that pending litigation in State and Federal courts will establish their right to continue claims already in process under the old law. In the spring of 2012, Judge Greg Weeks, Resident Superior Court Judge of Cumberland County, ruled that racial bias had existed in the case, the prosecutorial division, the judicial division and the entire state in the case of Marcus Robinson. Later that same year, Judge Weeks ruled in 3 more RJA cases, with similar findings. Judge Weeks based his ruling on the evidence presented during the hearings, including a comprehensive study on race and the death penalty in North Carolina was conducted by Michigan State University.
December 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order in the challenged Racial Justice Act cases. The Court ruled that the state should have been given more time to come up with a reasonable explanation for systemically removing African Americans from capital juries. Challenges to the North Carolina Supreme Court ruling are still pending in both state and federal court. In state court, the cases have been assigned to a new Senior Judge, since Judge Weeks has retired. The Supreme Court did not take a position on the merits of Judge Weeks’ ruling that race had been a significant factor in the death sentences of the four defendants.
News and Updates
Judge Ammons Removes Himself from Hearing Four Racial Bias Cases
The Cumberland County judge on Thursday removed himself from presiding over the cases of four people who in 2012 used a racial bias law to get off North Carolina’s death row.
During a hearing at the Cumberland County Courthouse, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons said he was stepping aside to prevent any allegations about his ability to be fair from clouding the cases.
The N.C. Supreme Court in December overturned the four inmates’ reprieves and sent their cases to Ammons for new hearings under the state’s controversial Racial Justice Act.
NC Supreme Court Vacates Racial Justice Act Decisions
The state Supreme Court vacated rulings in four historic Racial Justice Act cases, saying the judge erred when he did not give prosecutors more time to respond to a statistical study about race in the North Carolina courts.
The decision overturns Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks’ finding that racial bias played a role in the cases of Marcus Reymond Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Christina S. “Queen” Walters and Quintel Augustine.
Under the short-lived Racial Justice Act, Weeks’ finding meant that the four death row inmates saw their sentences commuted to life in prison without a possibility for parole. Now the four will have to make their cases again in Cumberland County Superior Court.
North Carolina Supreme Court Hears Racial Justice Act Case
Marcus Robinson had his case heard before the NC Supreme Court. Robinson was one of the first death row inmates whose sentence was converted under the Racial Justice Act.