By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 30, 2013
RALEIGH — Attempts to repeal what House Majority Leader Paul Stam called “one of the most unjust laws I’ve ever seen passed by the General Assembly,” progressed Wednesday with a 9-4 vote in a Judiciary Subcommittee to approve Capital Punishment/Amendments. Senate Bill 306, now headed to the House for a final vote perhaps as early as Monday, would put an end to the controversial Racial Justice Act and remove other legal hurdles so the death penalty could once again be carried out in North Carolina.
“The RJA was a well-intentioned law with many unintended consequences, not the least of which has been an obstruction of justice,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Evidence of racial discrimination can be brought forward during the extensive appeals process allowed in capital cases without the RJA. Plus, S 306 would also make it clear that healthcare professionals could assist with executions without fear of censure from their professional organizations.”
Not surprisingly, the bill filed by Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) sparked debate in the Judiciary Committee where Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) said appealing the RJA is an attempt to “play ostrich and bury our heads to the evidence that has been uncovered.”
He said the purpose of the law passed in 2009 was to “try to find a way to get at an issue that has marred the criminal justice system for decades” — that of racial discrimination, particularly during jury selection.
But Sen. Goolsby said the “poorly written” RJA, which within a year led to appeals from 152 of the state’s 156 death row inmates, “turns our hard-working district attorneys into racists and it turns cold-blooded murderers into victims.”
“Allowing the sham of RJA to go forward is going to continue to back up our courts and cost us millions of dollars,” he said.
Supporters of the repeal pointed to the fact that under RJA, even white murderers with white victims prosecuted by white district attorneys and convicted
by white juries could appeal their sentences, while RJA supporters insisted DAs could file motions to dismiss such claims and judges could throw them out.
North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, one of only two such laws in the nation, was scaled back last year when Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of S 416 was overridden. At the time, Rep. Stam (R-Wake) said the end of the state’s de facto moratorium on the death penalty was within sight.
“With this repeal bill already approved by the Senate and headed to the House this week, that end is coming into focus,” said Dr. Creech. “Capital punishment could become a reality once again in North Carolina, bringing justice to victims’ families and putting back into place the concept of individual responsibility.”
“No one wants to see a person condemned to die, but when someone is justly convicted of a heinous murder – no matter what his color or the color of the victim, the jury, the judge or the color of the carpet in the courtroom, for that matter — he should face the consequences,” he added.
Safe Harbor/Human Trafficking bill progressing
In other business Wednesday, the House Judiciary B Committee sent the Safe Harbor/Human Trafficking bill, S 683, to a subcommittee already dealing with a similar bill (H 221) to come up with proposed committee substitute including the best of both measures.
Sen. Thom Goolsby, who has led the Senate push to get North Carolina off the top 10 list of states with human trafficking, said he would appreciate another set of eyes on the proposed legislation that he said is “a complicated bill with a lot of moving parts.”
As it now stands, the bill would redefine the offenses of human trafficking, involuntary servitude and sexual servitude to provide punishment for those who act “in reckless disregard” or with actual knowledge of what is occurring. It would increase the punishment for these crimes while repealing existing statutes that pertain to prostitution and promotion or participating in the prostitution of a minor and rewriting a portion of the law to grant immunity to minors and to allow first time prostitution offenders a chance to earn deferred prosecution and even have their criminal records expunged if they successfully complete drug testing, counseling and a number of other requirements.
Among other provisions, the bill would outline penalties for prostitution related crimes committed within 1,000 feet of schools or against the mentally disabled and would ensure that victims of human trafficking could find relief under the Crime Victims Compensation Act.
“The goal of both S 683 and H 221 is to ensure that North Carolina is a safe harbor for those being harmed by human trafficking and that our laws go after the people who promote and take part in the growing prostitution business, rather than their unwilling or unwitting victims,” said Dr. Creech. “The Christian Action League has worked for some time with victims’ advocates and policy makers on this issue, and we’re thrilled to see legislation moving forward.”
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), who chairs Judiciary B along with Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe), said the committee is prepared to move the bill as soon as it is worked out by the sub-group, which will be led by Rep. Glazier and will include Rep. Stam, Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), Rep. Bobbie Richardson (D-Franklin), and Rep. Debra Conrad (R-Forsyth). H 221, which is already in the group’s hands, was filed by Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-New Hanover).