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Death Row inmate Marcus Reymond Robinson was convicted of murder in after he robbed and killed a teenager, who was Caucasian, in 1991. Now, under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act, the convicted inmate will have a chance to convert his death sentence to life in prison.
Robinson will now have a hearing, set for late in the summer, on the matter under the controversial Racial Justice Act. Robinson's hearing will be the first of its kind.
The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009, allows death row inmates to challenge their death penalties if their death sentence was based on racial bias.
Specifically, the Act provides that no person should be sentenced to death for "any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race." Whether or not a death sentence was pursued on the basis of race must be proven by the defendant.
The defendant can introduce statistical evidence of racial bias, including statistics on whether or not death sentences are sought or imposed more frequently on one race over another, or whether or not race was a factor for decisions to use peremptory challenges when selecting a jury for trial.
Peremptory challenges are meant to allow prosecutors and defense attorneys to dismiss a potential juror for any non-discriminatory reason. However, in some cases, attorneys might use peremptory challenges for discriminatory reasons - on the whole, it is difficult to detect when peremptory challenges are used for discriminatory reasons, such as the race of a potential juror.
The Racial Justice Act has been widely controversial. Republicans in North Carolina have been seeking its repeal, as they believe the Act has been abused - there have been no executions in North Carolina since 2006, perhaps because many of North Carolina's Death Row population have been seeking hearings under the Act.
The Act has survived, for now - the NC Senate will not reconsider whether or not to repeal the Racial Justice Act until their next session in 2012, reports The Wall Street Journal. And ultimately, Marcus Reymond Robinson's hearing will likely be closely watched by the many death row inmates and criminal defense attorneys who might be using the Racial Justice Act in appealing their death sentences.