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Death Penalty

The death penalty is discriminatory and arbitrary and inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and looks forward to the day when the United States joins the majority of nations in abolishing it. In North Carolina, the ACLU-NC has worked hard to help pass and defend the Racial Justice Act, which seeks to address racial bias in the state's capital punishment system. 

FAYETTEVILLE, NC – Three North Carolina death-row inmates were resentenced to life in prison without parole after a state judge found that racial discrimination in jury selection played a key role in securing their sentences.

Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine will spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole, under the provisions of the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. The law, passed in 2009 and one of only two such statutes in the nation, allows death-row inmates to present evidence that race influenced their sentencing process. All three were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The Court takes hope that acknowledgment of the ugly truth of race discrimination revealed by Defendants’ evidence is the first step in creating a system of justice that is free from the pernicious influence of race, a system that truly lives up to our ideal of equal justice under the law,” Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks ruled.


Today the North Carolina House and Senate voted to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of SB 416, a bill that would effectively repeal the state’s historic Racial Justice Act by no longer allowing individuals to use statewide statistics in order to demonstrate racial bias in our state's capital punishment system.

In response, ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston offered the following comment:

“This is a sad day for justice and for North Carolina. By gutting the Racial Justice Act, our legislature has turned its back on the overwhelming evidence of racial bias in our state’s death penalty system. Politicians have decided they would rather sweep disturbing information under the rug than work to ensure that racial bias plays no role in North Carolina’s death penalty.”


FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – A North Carolina judge Friday issued a landmark decision finding intentional and systemic discrimination by state prosecutors against African-American potential jurors in capital cases and commuted the sentence of a death-row prisoner to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The decision on behalf of Marcus Robinson by North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks, the first to be issued under the state’s historic Racial Justice Act, comes nearly 25 years to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCleskey v. Kemp that evidence of systemic bias is not sufficient to challenge a death sentence.

Passed in 2009, the Racial Justice Act allows North Carolina’s 157 death row prisoners a hearing in which they can present statistics and other evidence that death sentences state- and county-wide were tainted by race discrimination and that their death should be commuted to life in prison.


Raleigh, NC – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina today urged North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue to veto a bill passed earlier this week repealing the state’s historic Racial Justice Act (RJA), which gives prisoners on death row the chance to argue their sentences were the result of racial bias.

In a letter to the governor, the ACLU argues the act, passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Perdue in 2009, is essential to ensuring defendants receive the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law. The letter also argues there is no chance any current death row prisoner would go free as a result of a successful challenge of their sentence under the law, as state prosecutors have wrongly warned and says there is no evidence to suggest implementation of the law has thus far proved a burden upon the state’s court system.

“To abandon the RJA now, before any hearings under the fledgling law can be held would … put North Carolina in danger of executing a person based on race rather than the crime committed,” the ACLU’s letter reads.