NC’s Repealed Racial Justice Act Ends with a 100% Success Rate

NC’s Repealed Racial Justice Act Ends with a 100% Success Rate

In 2009, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed the Racial Justice Act (RJA). It prohibited death sentences “pursuant to any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race.”

According to the N.C. Supreme Court, “[t]he goal of this historic legislation was simple: to abolish racial discrimination from capital sentencing.”

Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

Once the Racial Justice Act started achieving its goal of abolishing racial discrimination in capital sentencing, the General Assembly repealed it.

As the Supreme Court has also noted, “[o]nce implemented, the RJA worked as intended.” Apparently it worked too well. Marcus Robinson, the first person to seek relief under the RJA, after a lengthy legal battle, was successful in doing so.

After Robinson’s success, the General Assembly backtracked, making it harder to obtain relief under the act. But the next three claimants under the RJA — Quintel Martinez Augustine, Christina Shea Walters and Tilmon Charles Golphin — were also successful, even under the higher burden.

Image by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash.

This led the General Assembly to backtrack even further, repealing the RJA in its entirety. In addition to prohibiting other claimants from seeking relief under the RJA, the General Assembly also indicated that its repeal was retroactive. This meant it would erase Robinson’s, Augustine’s, Walters’, and Golphin’s success under the RJA.

Last month, the NC Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina Constitution prohibited a retroactive repeal of the RJA. In that decision, the Supreme Court determined that the constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy prevented the General Assembly’s repeal from applying to claimants like Robinson.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly’s repeal couldn’t retroactively apply to the other three claimants either.

But what about Augustine, Walters and Golphin? This past week, the N.C. Supreme Court issued three separate opinions resolving their claims under the RJA in the same way they did Robinson’s.

“For the reasons stated in State v. Robinson,” the Supreme Court began in the opinion in Augustine’s case, “double jeopardy bars review of the judgment entered in this matter.” The Supreme Court also relied on its decision in State v. Ramseur, another decision we covered in June. In that case, the Court similarly held that North Carolina law prohibited the retroactive application of the General Assembly’s repeal. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Walters’ case and its opinion in Golphin’s case stated the same.

Image by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

With a 100% success rate for claimants under the RJA, what would have happened if it hadn’t been repealed?

Ultimately, whether the RJA and its goal of abolishing racial discrimination from capital sentencing are important to North Carolina residents is an issue for the future. In 2009, it apparently was. By 2013, it apparently wasn’t. But, as of now, everyone who sought and obtained relief under the RJA can keep their legal victories.

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