Association of Prosecuting AttorneysApril 26, 2012
North Carolina Judge Overturns First Conviction Under State's Racial Justice Act
In a historic decision, a North Carolina judge Friday reduced an inmate's death sentence to life without the possibility of parole because the prosecutor had deliberately excluded black potential jurors during the jury-selection phase of the inmate's trial. Judge Gregory A. Weeks, of Cumberland County Superior Court, said in his decision that race played a ''persistent, pervasive and distorting role'' in the selection of the jury that in 1994 convicted Marcus Robinson, who is African-American, of murder and that it was clear ''prosecutors have intentionally discriminated'' against defendants in capital murder trials across the state by purposely limiting the number of blacks chosen to serve on juries. The judge heard the case without a jury. The decision in the closely-watched case, which prosecutors said will be appealed, is the first under the state's controversial Racial Justice Act. That law, passed by the state legislature in 2009, allows death-row inmates or defendants facing a sentence of death to contest their sentence by using statistics and other evidence to show that racism influenced prosecutorial actions in selecting the jury or deciding to seek the death penalty. More than 150 other inmates on North Carolina's death row have declared their intent to challenge their sentences as well.