Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

North Carolina hearing over alleged racial bias in jury selection could upend death sentences

By 37ci3 Feb22,2024



North Carolina More than 135 death row inmates could see their sentences commuted to life in prison after a landmark hearing scheduled to begin next week that will examine whether racial discrimination plays a role in jury selection in capital cases.

The main case is about Hasson Bacote, a black man who was sentenced to death in 2009 by a jury of 10 whites and two blacks for his role in the felony. Bacote, 37, is currently being held in a Raleigh prison on death row North Carolina remains on holdin part, due to legal disputes and access difficulties lethal injection drugs.

Bacote sought to challenge the trial’s findings based on a landmark state law known as the Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allows death row inmates to seek leniency if they can show that racial bias was a factor in their cases.

In 2013, then-Gov. Republican Pat McCrory struck down the law, arguing that it “creates a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty, not a pathway to justice.”

But in 2020, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of many inmates, allowing those like Bacote who had already contested their cases to move forward.

At the time, nearly everyone on death row, including both black and white inmates, applied for investigations under the Racial Justice Act. According to the Associated Press.

Now, Bacote’s legal team, which includes attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, is preparing for his first court hearing, which begins Monday in Johnston County. It can last two weeks.

“We believe the statistical evidence will be strong and will demonstrate the continuing impact of discrimination,” ACLU general counsel Henderson Hill told reporters Wednesday.

The lawyers plan to call on several historians, social scientists and others to determine the history and pattern of discrimination used in jury selection in Bacot’s trial and in Johnston County, a once-white suburb of Raleigh. prominently displayed Ku Klux Klan billboards During the Jim Crow era.

In court documents, Bacote’s attorneys suggested during his trial that local prosecutors were “nearly twice as likely to exclude people of color from juries than they were to exclude whites,” and that prosecutors in Bacote’s case chose to strike prospective black jurors. jurors, more than three times the proportion of potential white jurors.

Bacote’s legal team also said his evidence would show that the death penalty in Johnston County is 1½ times more likely to be sought and imposed against a black defendant, and twice as likely “in cases involving minority defendants.”

Juror records in other capital cases in North Carolina could also help bolster evidence, the ACLU said, finding references by prosecutors about black jurors’ physical appearance, from dark skin tones to being referred to as “thugs.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s office is seeking to delay the upcoming hearing, arguing in a lawsuit that claims made by Bacote’s attorneys are based, in part, on a Michigan State University investigation by the North Carolina Supreme Court. already found last year being “untrustworthy and fatally flawed.”

Although the state Attorney General’s Office said in a lawsuit that racial bias in jury selection was “abhorrent,” according to NBC affiliate WRAL In Raleigh, the office added that “a claim of racial discrimination cannot be presumed based on the defendant’s mere allegation; it must be proven.”

Stein’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Stein, a Democrat running for governor of North Carolina in November, has taken heat from her primary challenger, who has questioned her office’s position as she tries to stop the upcoming hearing.

“It’s shameful that my primary opponent, AG Stein, is trying to save a convicted black defendant’s long-awaited day in court before early voting begins,” said Michael Morgan, a former state Supreme Court justice. He wrote in X.

The expected hearing comes in a politically volatile election year in the state, as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s seat will be contested along with Stein’s attorney general position and a seat on the state Supreme Court. It has a Republican majority.

The last time an inmate was executed in North Carolina was in 2006, leading to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment cases. In light of the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, Cooper faced calls from anti-death penalty advocates to commute the sentences of the remaining death row inmates.

“There’s no question that our evidence in the Hasson Bacote case speaks to the larger conversation that’s happening in North Carolina about whether the governor should retain the death penalty or reverse the order,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Death Penalty Project.

A judge could decide from the bench or issue his decision later, Stubbs said, which could set a precedent when deciding whether to commute Bacot’s death sentence to life in prison.

“Is There Statewide Discrimination in Jury Selection in North Carolina?” he asked. “That’s in question, that’s the question for the judge to answer.”





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