The North Carolina General Assembly [official website] on Monday voted to override the veto of Governor Beverly Perdue [official website] regarding legislation [SB 416 materials] that will essentially nullify the state's Racial Justice Act (RJA) [PDF]. Signed into law by Perdue in 2009, the RJA allows an individual sentenced to death to present evidence to prove that racial bias was a major factor in applying the sentence. Last week Perdue vetoed new legislation designed to seriously weaken the RJA [Reuters report] through restrictions on convicts' use of statistical evidence in challenging their sentences. Perdue vetoed the legislation on the ground that it rendered the original law meaningless. However the legislature gathered the three-fifths vote needed to override Perdue, succeeding where it had fallen short of overriding a veto of similar legislation in 2011. Perdue stated in her veto message,
Last year ... the General Assembly tried — and failed — to take North Carolina backwards by passing a bill that would have undone the Racial Justice Act. This year's Senate Bill 416 is not a "compromise bill"; it guts the Racial Justice Act and renders it meaningless. ... [The] majority in the General Assembly could have tried to strengthen our efforts to fix the flaws in our system. Instead, they chose to turn a blind eye to the problem and eviscerate the Racial Justice Act. Willfully ignoring the pernicious effects of discrimination will not make those problems go away.Regardless, the Senate voted 31-11 and the House voted 82-48 to override Perdue's veto, with proponents of the new legislation claiming the RJA is merely an attempt to undermine North Carolina's death penalty.
The new legislation came on the heels of a state judge's decision in April to commute a death row inmate's sentence [JURIST report] to life in prison without parole. The judge vacated the death sentence of Marcus Reymond Robinson after determining that racial bias was a major influence behind the original sentence, passed 18 years ago. Specifically the judge determined that race was a significant factor in choosing members of the jury for Robinson's trial. Also in April, in contrast to the legislative moves in North Carolina, the Connecticut legislature voted to repeal the death penalty [JURIST report] completely in that state, although earlier attempts to abolish the sentence through referendum were unsuccessful upon final vote.