Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh have submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice in North Carolina v. Marcus Reymond Robinson. The case addresses the first instance of a North Carolina death row inmate having his death sentence reduced to life in prison under the North Carolina Racial Justice Act.
The Racial Justice Act was a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 2009. It permitted individuals on death row to use statistical analysis when arguing that race played a role in their sentencing; those death sentences found to have been sought or obtained on the basis of race under the act would be commuted to life without possibility of parole. The Racial Justice Act was weakened in 2012, and repealed in 2013.
Marcus Robinson was the first death row inmate to have his sentence commuted to life without possibility of parole under the RJA. In April of 2012, Judge Gregory Weeks found that Robinson had introduced “a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina” that had been largely unrebutted by the State. Judge Weeks ultimately concluded that prosecutors had intentionally used race as a significant factor when striking potential jurors, and found that race had been a significant factor in determining when the death penalty was sought and imposed at the time of Robinson’s trial. Judge Weeks therefore commuted Robinson’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Read this article from the New York Times for more information on Mr. Robinson’s case.
The State appealed Judge Week’s order to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Burton and Narendra’s amicus brief discusses the nature of racial bias in jury selection, addresses the limited extent to which long-standing constitutional doctrines protect against such bias, explores the manner in which the Racial Justice Act remedied these deficiencies, and argues that Judge Weeks correctly applied the Racial Justice Act in commuting Robinson’s sentence.