Remember the “Racial Justice Act”? I told you about it here, in February. It is a North Carolina law that says: we don’t care whether there was racial bias in this case. The issue is whether there is racial bias by prosecutors in the system as a whole. Oh — and we are going to measure racial bias by prosecutors by looking at the aggregate numbers of blacks prosecutors excuse, regardless of whether their excuses are justified by racially neutral reasons.
In February, I focused on the irony of the fact that the act was being invoked by . . . a racist — someone who killed a white guy for being white:
Welcome to a country where a law called the “Racial Justice Act” is employed to potentially reduce the punishment of someone who killed a man because of his color:
For nearly three weeks, convicted murderer Marcus Reymond Robinson has listened quietly inside a county courtroom here to intricate testimony about statistics — dry statistics that could get him off death row.
. . . .
The issue of race has dominated Robinson’s hearing before a Superior Court judge here. Prosecutors have pointed out that Robinson said “he was going to get him a whitey” before he killed 17-year-old Erik Tornblom with a shotgun blast to the face and robbed him of $27. An accomplice is serving a life sentence.
I write today to tell you that Robinson’s case has been decided. You’ll be pleased to learn that he has been let off death row due to the Racial Justice Act:
A county judge in North Carolina issued a landmark ruling Friday that overturned an inmate’s death sentence after a finding that race played a key role in the jury-selection process.
Wait. In the jury selection process of Robinson’s case? Or in cases as a whole? The Wall Street Journal is frustratingly unclear on this critical point.
Friday’s decision came in the case of Marcus Reymond Robinson, who was convicted in 1994 of murdering a white 17-year-old during a robbery. Judge Weeks was tasked with determining whether race played an improper role in jury selection at Mr. Robinson’s trial 18 years ago.
The judge, an African-American who has 23 years on the bench, vacated Mr. Robinson’s death sentence and resentenced him to life in prison without parole.
The state indicated it would appeal the decision.
During a hearing in February, attorneys for Mr. Robinson cited a study by researchers at Michigan State University to show that North Carolina prosecutors struck prospective black jurors from juries far more frequently than white jurors. As he announced his decision Friday, Judge Weeks said the Michigan State study was a “valid, highly reliable study.”
The state had argued that the study was flawed, and offered affidavits from prosecutors stating that their dismissals of prospective black jurors could be otherwise explained.
Reading that, do you have any idea whether the judge was focused on bias in Robinson’s case, bias in other cases, or both? The article later suggests that the answer is “both”:
Judge Weeks, who took about two months to announce his decision, said in court Friday that North Carolina “prosecutors intentionally discriminated” against potential black jurors during jury selection historically and in the Robinson case.
Well, look. If prosecutors intentionally discriminated against jurors in Robinson’s case, then this reversal is a no-brainer, and the Racial Justice Act had nothing to do with it.
If they didn’t, then we have a problem. Because, as I explained in February, prosecutors often have valid, racially neutral reasons to strike black jurors:
Let’s say there are six whites and six blacks on your panel. Four of the whites and two of the blacks say they can treat everyone equally, while two of the whites and four of the blacks say they can’t apply the death penalty and that they don’t trust police. You, as the prosecutor, strike the latter six from your panel.
You have just struck twice as many blacks as whites. You racist. And yet, you were doing your job: excusing biased jurors for race-neutral reasons.
So it’s hard to know how angry to get about this. But I will say that, any way you slice it, it is rather ironic that theories of racial justice are saving the life of a guy who killed someone because of his race.
UPDATE: The decision is here.