by Matt Saldaña
The N.C. House has announced that the Racial Justice Act will come up for a third and final reading during today's regular session, scheduled for 3 p.m. Senate Bill 461 would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial. If convicted of first-degree murder, these defendants instead would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Last night, members of the House defeated an amendment that would have reduced the scope of the bill and re-referred it to the Appropriations committee, by a vote of 58-58.
Instead, House Democrats voted to pass a "clean" version of the bill that does not contain controversial clauses that would ensure the resumption of the death penalty in North Carolina; that bill now comes up for a final House vote tonight. Previously, the N.C. Senate passed a version of the bill that does contain these clauses, meaning that an ultimate resolution must be struck either through amendments in the Senate, or in conference committee.
Last night's debate included re-hashed, and factually inaccurate, claims by Minority House Leader Paul Stam that the bill would require local districts to execute more white people, and women, the N&O and AP report. In fact, the bill would allow defendants to present statistical data to support a claim of racial bias; judges would then rule whether such a claim was valid. It would not require prosecutors to seek out death sentences based on race, but instead ensure the practice does not exist.
For background on the bill, see the Indy's previous coverage.