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North Carolina repeals death penalty racial justice law

North Carolina Governor Patrick McRory [official website] on Wednesday signed into law Senate Bill 306 [text, PDF], repealing the Racial Justice Act (RJA) [text; JURIST news archive] that allowed minority death row inmates to seek a reduced sentence. The 2009 law created an additional path to life imprisonment without parole for those sentenced to death row if they could prove that their sentence was racially motivated. To date, four men were able to successfully show that prejudice affected their criminal proceedings and were granted life in prison in lieu of a lethal injection. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina [advocacy website], which helped represent all four recipients of commuted sentences, stated [press release] that the RJA gave the courts a chance to gain insight into the way race affects judicial bias and correct for it. McRory and supporters, however, maintain that the RJA was unnecessary because convicted prisoners still retain the right to appeal.

Six US states have repealed the death penalty since 2008, bringing the total to 18. One of the common rationales for this trend is that the costs associated with litigating appeals actually cost the state more than paying for a prisoner's needs for life. Those states that recently joined this trend are Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois [JURIST reports]. On the other hand, 32 states retain its use, according to the Death Penalty Information Center [advocacy website]. California [JURIST report] voters declined to repeal the death penalty on the most recent ballot despite the fact that 47 percent of voters supported the repeal last November.

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