Published on: Friday, August 14, 2020

Today, the North Carolina Supreme Court reinstated the life sentence of Marcus Robinson, a 47-year-old Black man who proved before a judge in 2012 that racism had affected trial proceedings that resulted in his death sentence, article available here. Robinson had been re-sentenced to life without parole under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act (RJA) but was later moved back onto death row after a series of legislative and legal proceedings. In today’s ruling, the Court ruled that when, while it was still in effect, defendant Marcus Robinson successfully challenged his death sentence under the terms of the law (which allowed defendants to make a showing that racial bias tainted their trials, including the selection of their juries), the fact that the law was later repealed did not mean that he could be re-sentenced to death. According the court, such a re-imposition of a death sentence amounted to double jeopardy and was thus unconstitutional.

Marcus Robinson is one of four inmates to initially get death penalty sentences reduced using the legal process outlined in the now-defunct Racial Justice Act. The 2009 law allowed death row inmates to receive life without parole if they could prove through an appeals process that racial bias was the reason or a significant factor for their death sentence. The North Carolina General Assembly amended the Racial Justice Act in 2012 and then repealed the law the following year.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer on June 5, 2020 in State v. Ramseur, that the repeal of the Racial Justice Act cannot be applied retroactively. This paves the way for more than 100 death row inmates to get the relief they sought while the 2009 law was in place.