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Racial Justice

The ACLU is dedicated to combating racial and ethnic bias and upholding racial equality in order to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have historically been denied their rights on the basis of race or ethnicity. Our Racial Justice Project works with local communities to investigate reports of racial profiling across North Carolina. 

RALEIGH – Today North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 306, legislation that fully repeals the historic Racial Justice Act, which allowed death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and receive life in prison without parole if they could show evidence that racial bias was a factor in their sentence. Four death-row inmates have been resentenced to life in prison after a judge found that racial discrimination played a key role in securing their sentences.

“The Racial Justice Act brought to light undeniable proof that North Carolina’s death penalty system is plagued by racial bias,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “By repealing this law barely four years into its existence, North Carolina’s leadership has willfully turned its back on widespread evidence of systemic racial bias that needs to be addressed – not ignored. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and without bias. Sadly, North Carolina’s lawmakers have just undone the best tool our state had to achieve that goal.”

In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future."

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RALEIGH - Yesterday, the North Carolina Senate gave final approval to S.B. 306, a bill that will repeal what remains of the Racial Justice Act (RJA), a landmark civil rights law that allows death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and seek life without parole if they could demonstrate that racial bias played a role in their sentence. The bill now heads to Governor Pat McCrory for his signature. Contact Gov. McCrory here to ask him to veto S.B. 306, and watch the video below to learn more about the disturbing role of racial bias in North Carolina's death penalty system.

In the first case ever tried under the RJA, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the sentence of death-row prisoner Marcus Robinson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after finding that the defendant “introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. The evidence, largely unrebutted by the state, requires relief in his case and should serve as a clear signal of the need for reform in capital jury selection proceedings in the future."

The heart of the statistical evidence presented in the Robinson case from a comprehensive study by researchers from Michigan State University that showed that state prosecutors in North Carolina were significantly more likely to strike potential jurors who were African-American. In a related study, the researchers found that defendants are much more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white than if the victim is black.

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RALEIGH – On Wednesday, June 5, the North Carolina House of Representatives approved S.B. 306, a bill that seeks to restart executions in North Carolina and would repeal the Racial Justice Act (RJA), a historic civil rights law that seeks to address racial bias in the state’s death penalty system by allowing death-row inmates to appeal their sentences and receive life without parole if they can show that race was a factor in their sentencing. The North Carolina Senate has already approved the bill once, and it now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) released the following statement:

“The Racial Justice Act has made it possible to shine a light on widespread and indisputable evidence of racial bias in North Carolina’s death penalty system that needs to be addressed,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston. “It would be beyond tragic if North Carolina turns its back on that evidence and haphazardly rushes to restart executions, knowing full well that our capital punishment process is plagued by racial bias and other flaws that might very well lead to the execution of innocent people. Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and with respect for due process, yet this bill makes it harder, if not impossible, to achieve that goal.”

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RALEIGH – According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, North Carolina spent nearly $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, while statewide African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.4 times the rate of whites, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race.

Statewide, North Carolina law enforcement made 20,983 marijuana arrests in 2010 – the 10th most in the nation – and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 53.6 percent of all drug arrests in North Carolina in 2010. Fifty percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in North Carolina were African American, even though statewide African Americans comprise only 22 percent of the population – a 28 point difference.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost. The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work.”

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) is strongly criticizing a state House bill that would bring an Arizona-style anti-immigrant law to North Carolina, as well as other provisions targeting undocumented immigrants. Filed yesterday by four House Republicans, H.B. 786 would allow law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop and detain them for up to 24 hours, make it harder for undocumented immigrants to post bail, require anyone who is undocumented and arrested to pay the cost of their detention, and would allow law enforcement to impound and seize the vehicles of undocumented drivers.  

“This is a harsh, Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill that will lead to racial profiling and send a message that North Carolina is a hostile environment for aspiring citizens,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “The proposal gives police the power to harass people based solely on suspicion of their immigration status, opening the door to stops based on stereotypes and racial bias rather than facts and evidence.”

The bill also rejects matricula consular IDs issued by the Mexican government as an acceptable form of identification, while authorizing undocumented immigrants to obtain an annual driver’s permit that will be vertical and include the driver’s thumbprint.  

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