11/16/11 — DAs are right: Racial Justice Act will become springboard for injustice

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DAs are right: Racial Justice Act will become springboard for injustice

No judicial system is perfect. There are times when the innocent are convicted and the guilty go free. That's what comes with allowing a suspect to be tried by a jury of his or her peers.

Most Americans want to stamp out as many mistakes like this as possible. They want their judicial system to be fair and just for everyone. And when they are called to jury duty, they take that responsibility seriously.

What makes the debate over the Racial Justice Act so interesting is that it is based on a premise that not only could there have been mistakes made in the death penalty sentences of many of the 157 inmates on death row, but that the fact that those sentences might have been assessed by white jurors or the prosecutions led by white prosecutors makes them immediately suspect.

The district attorneys across the state who are protesting the Racial Justice Act have a point. They say it is less about discrimination and more about ending the death penalty in the state.

And they say that if it is allowed to continue, it will eat up court time in a system that is already undermanned and underfunded as inmates take advantage of the opportunity to have their cases reheard -- even if they are white. That, in turn, could slow down the justice process for everyone.

And they are right.

According to published reports, the Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates and defendants facing the death penalty to use statistics and other evidence to show that racial bias played a significant role in either their sentence or in the prosecutors' decision to pursue the death penalty. The law says an inmate's sentence is reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if the claim is successful.

And while it sounds good, its result might be to actually make the system less just -- and to interfere with the justice due the victims of these crimes.

The problem with this piece of legislation is that it assumes mal-intent of jurors as the basis for the challenge. In fact, it shakes the very core of the justice system, which is that Americans will listen to all sides and judge their peers fairly.

Is it really going to eliminate discrimination? Probably not. Is it going to do damage to fair and speedy trials? Absolutely. There are better ways to make sure that justice is swift and fair in North Carolina.

And if the debate is really about the death penalty itself, let's have it, not cloak it in a piece of legislation that merely scratches the surface of the real concern.

Published in Editorials on November 16, 2011 10:45 AM