NewsHearing Could Challenge Death Sentences Due To Racial Bias

Hearing Could Challenge Death Sentences Due To Racial Bias

A court hearing has potential to change the fate of over 135 inmates facing death sentences, questioning racial bias in jury selection.

The upcoming trial in Johnston County will be a battleground where Bacote’s legal team, including ACLU lawyers, aims to present statistical evidence demonstrating the enduring impact of discrimination in jury selection. Henderson Hill, senior counsel with the ACLU, emphasized, “We think the statistical evidence will be powerful and demonstrate the lasting impact of discrimination.”

The case alleges that local prosecutors in Johnston County were disproportionately excluding people of color from jury service. Bacote’s legal team contends that in his trial, prosecutors were over three times more likely to strike prospective Black jurors than white jurors. They plan to call historians and social scientists to establish a history and pattern of discrimination in both Bacote’s trial and Johnston County.

The evidence includes assertions that the death penalty was significantly more likely to be sought and imposed on Black defendants and minorities in Johnston County. References made by prosecutors about Black jurors’ physical appearance in other capital cases in North Carolina are expected to strengthen the argument.

It’s shameful that my primary opponent AG Stein is trying to keep a Convicted Black defendant from getting his long-awaited day in court before early voting begins because Stein doesn’t want Black voters to know his (Stein’s) argument in this high-profile case which is that the…— Michael Morgan (@MorganForGov) February 19, 2024

In a surprising move, the office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein seeks to delay the hearing, challenging the reliability of claims based on a Michigan State University study. Stein’s office acknowledges the abhorrence of racial bias in jury selection but argues that a claim of discrimination must be proven and cannot be presumed.

The hearing’s significance extends beyond Bacote’s case, intersecting with broader debates on the death penalty in North Carolina. With gubernatorial, attorneys general, and state Supreme Court elections looming, the hearing comes amid a politically charged environment. Anti-death penalty advocates have called on Gov. Roy Cooper to commute the remaining death sentences.

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, highlighted the broader implications, stating, “There’s no question that our evidence in Hasson Bacote’s case goes to this broader conversation that’s happening in North Carolina over whether we should keep the death penalty or if the governor should commute the row.”

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Source: Black Enterprise

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