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The Challenges Of Detecting Racial Bias In Court Proceedings

A picture of the US Supreme Court building.


The Racial Justice Act of 2009 allowed defendants in North Carolina to appeal their death sentences if they could show racial bias was a factor in their trials.

It was the only law in the country that retroactively applied to capital cases. And it let inmates use court statistics to prove their arguments, rather than having to prove prosecutors intended to be prejudiced.

But under pressure from dozens of district attorneys who said the law was unnecessarily delaying capital cases, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act in 2013.

So, what did the law achieve in its four years on the books? And how do we know when racial bias is present in the courtroom?

Host Frank Stasio talks withNew York Times contributor Dax-Devlon Ross about his latest article for The Virginia Quarterly Review"Bias in the Box," published in collaboration with the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.

The opening articles of the Racial Justice Act explained that defendants could use statistics rather than intent to prove racial bias in their cases:

The opening articles of the Racial Justice Act of 2009
Credit North Carolina General Assembly
North Carolina General Assembly
The opening articles of the Racial Justice Act of 2009

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Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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