Update on Death Penalty Procedures (SB 416)
On Wednesday, Senate Bill 416 “Amend Death Penalty Procedures” passed the House on a final vote of 73 to 47. It has now gone to the Senate for concurrence. The bill alleviates the effects of The Racial Justice Act, which essentially imposed a five to six year moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina when it passed in 2009. It allowed all inmates on death row at the time to claim they were racially discriminated against during their trial. By 2011, 152 of 156 prisoners made claim, putting their cases on indefinite hold.
The major changes detail the use of evidence to prove racial discrimination. First, it limits the definition of “at the time the death sentence was sought or imposed” to 10 years prior to the offense and two years after the sentence when determining if racial discrimination occurred. Previously, that phrase was undefined. This limits the use of statistical data to approximately a 15 year window, which is most relevant to the question.
The bill eliminates the defendant’s ability to prove race was a significant factor in his or her conviction by using statewide statistical evidence. Statistical evidence is limited to the county or prosecutorial district the defendant was tried at the time the death sentence was imposed.
The bill outlines what types of evidence may be used by the defendant. Statistical evidence alone is not enough by itself to determine racial discrimination. But relevant evidence may include statistics that show the race of the defendant was a significant factor, or evidence that shows race was a significant factor in jury selection. Specific evidence may include, but is not limited to, sworn testimony of attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and judges.
This action is necessary to end the moratorium on the death penalty. The death penalty acts as a deterrent only if it is used. The death penalty will obviously not deter if the state only pretends to have a death penalty and never carries out the sentence.