The new Republican run at changing the Racial Justice Act will be taken up in a House judiciary committee Monday and then, if approved, to the floor that night for a vote.
The authors are continuing to operate on the bill, SB416, and have made a couple changes that address concerns raised in the committee earlier in the week.
One, defendants would be given a window of opportunity to attempt to prove bias in their case from 10 years before the offense to two years after being sentenced. The current bill reached back only two years before the offense.
Democratic lawmakers had expressed concern that a prosecutor with a long history of biased prosecutions wouldn’t be held accountable if the window was restricted to that two-year period.
Secondly, defendants can try to prove that race was a significant factor in jury selection, when a prosecutor exercises peremptory strikes. The current bill only refers to proving that the race of the defendant was a significant factor.
The authors have also thrown in entirely new language removing judges’ ability to declare cases as non-capital cases based on prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence, or prosecutors’ failure to hold a timely hearing on whether a case should be tried as a death-penalty case.
Another new section would take approval of the protocols for carrying out executions out of the hands of the governor and Council of State.
What the GOP and prosecutors are trying to do with the new bill is make each death-penalty case about individual defendants, and not about widespread statistical evidence of bias in North Carolina. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled Legislature enacted the Racial Justice Act, which said racial bias in prosecution and sentencing could be used to turn death sentences into sentences of life in prison without parole.
Democrats and death penalty opponents say this new legislation is an attempt to repeal the Racial Justice Act, similiar to a bill last year that the governor vetoed and that the House could not override.