A Stubborn Legacy: The Overwhelming Importance of Race in Jury Selection in 173 Post-Batson North Carolina Capital Trials
30 Pages Posted: 2 May 2012 Last revised: 12 Jul 2012
Date Written: May 2, 2012
The North Carolina Racial Justice Act of 2009 created a state claim for relief for defendants currently on death row who can show that race was a significant factor in the exercise of peremptory challenges in their cases. A defendant who makes such a showing is entitled to have a death sentence reduced to life without parole. The RJA expressly deems a broad range of evidence relevant by allowing claimants to prove their cases using “statistical evidence or other evidence, including, but not limited to, sworn testimony of attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, jurors, or other members of the criminal justice system or both.” This Article presents the results of a study undertaken in order to evaluate the potential for statistical evidence to support claims under this part of the Racial Justice Act.
In particular, we examined how prosecutors exercised peremptory challenges in capital trials of all defendants on death row in North Carolina as of July 1, 2010, to assess whether potential jurors’ race played any role in those decisions. We found substantial disparities in which potential jurors prosecutors struck. Over the twenty-year period we examined, prosecutors struck eligible black venire members at about 2.5 times the rate they struck eligible venire members who were not black. These disparities remained consistent over time and across the state, and did not diminish when we controlled for information about venire members that potentially bore on the decision to strike them, such as views on the death penalty or prior experience with crime.
The evidence presented in this article constituted the primary evidence in support of the first Racial Justice Act claim to reach a decision. On April 20, 2012, Judge Gregory Weeks in Cumberland County, North Carolina, found this study highly reliable and that the defendant had shown race to be a significant factor in the exercise of peremptory challenges at the time of his trial. Based on these findings, he vacated the defendant’s death sentence and resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Keywords: capital punishment, death penalty, empirical analysis, equal protection, jury selection, peremptory challenges, race discrimination, Batson, North Carolina, Racial Justice Act
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