Winston Salem Journal: Judge’s ruling should improve administration of Racial Justice Act

“Judge William Z. Wood’s latest ruling on the Racial Justice Act should set the stage for the denial of frivolous filings under the act — giving the criminal justice system more time to concentrate on cases where there is strong evidence of racial bias.

Wood ruled last week that the act’s provisions “may be interpreted to allow the courts to consider the ‘facts and circumstances’ of each claimant’s case.” His ruling was in response to filings under the act from lawyers for Erroll Duke Moses and Carl Stephen Moseley, who were sentenced to death for Forsyth County murders. And Wood denied a motion from Moses to seal discovery materials from a study conducted by Michigan State University until the study’s authors can show a reason why the material should not be released. Prosecutors should be able to examine those materials.

Earlier last month, Wood ruled the Racial Justice Act passed by the legislature in 2009 was constitutional, a decision we called courageous and just. He rejected arguments from Forsyth County prosecutors that the law is too vague and ambiguous.

The prosecutors did make a good point when they said they should be able to argue the specifics of each case. Now they can do that. And judges can balance that evidence against county and statewide statistics. In Forsyth County, 58 percent of death-row inmates were sentenced by juries with only one person of color or none. Two studies from the Michigan State show that those who kill white people in this state are 2.6 times more likely to be executed than those who kill minorities. Regardless of your race, if you kill a white person, you’re more likely to get the ultimate punishment than if you kill a black person.

The statistics leave plenty of room for defense attorneys to argue that white life is more valuable than black life, whether the killer is black or white, at least if the value is judged by the punishment. That said, Judge Woods’ latest decision should help ensure that only serious cases of racial bias advance under this important act.”

«Judge’s ruling should improve administration of Racial Justice Act.


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