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Four inmates who won reduced sentences under racial justice law seek to uphold the decisions

Posted Apr 16, 2014 6:50 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The North Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in the cases of four death-row inmates who had their sentences reduced to life in prison under the state’s now-repealed Racial Justice Act.

The North Carolina law, passed in 2009, allowed defendants to use statistics to help support claims that their death sentences were affected by racial bias.

The first person to win a reduced sentence under the law was Marcus Reymond Robinson, the New York Times reports. His case was part of a study finding that race was a substantial factor in prosecutors’ peremptory challenges in 173 death penalty cases.

Robinson’s lawyer, Donald Beskind, and a lawyer for the state, Danielle Elder, differed on the interpretation of the law in the oral arguments on Monday. The Times covered the arguments, along with the Associated Press and the Raleigh News & Observer.

Elder argued that the Robinson’s lawyers had not shown evidence of specific or intentional racism. Elder said the judge who reduced Robinson’s sentence interpreted the racial justice law “in such a way that a capital defendant can obtain relief even if that defendant has never personally experienced racial discrimination in his case at any point in the criminal justice process.”

Beskind countered that the law didn’t require the racism to be intentional or to be the sole reason for a death sentence. He told the court that prosecutors used challenges to eliminate half of the qualified black jurors for Robinson’s trial.

The court also considered the cases of three other inmates whose death sentences were reduced to life in prison: Tilmon Golphin, Quintel Augustine, and Christina Walters. Their sentences were reduced based on the law as it was amended in 2012.

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