The General Assembly recently finished up their lawmaking session, passing a variety of legislation, some of which has stirred quite a bit of controversy locally and nationally. All that’s left now is for Governor Pat McCrory to sign those laws of which he approves and veto those he’s against. He’s done both this week.
He signed into law a controversial Voter ID law that forces voters to show ID at the polling place, as well as shortens the hours of early voting and eliminates straight-ticket voting.
On The State of Things a roundtable of legal professionals discussed these and a variety of other legal issues pertaining to the recent General Assembly session, including the overturning of the Racial Justice Act. The Act allowed inmates to challenge their convictions based on statistical evidence of racial bias.
Willis Whichard, a former state representative, senator and NC Supreme Court justice said on The State of Things that the Act was necessary.
"In an ideal system, we wouldn't need this, but the system isn't ideal," he said. "There was a useful purpose for the act."
Bill Marshall, a professor of law with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Act addressed a vital issue in the legal system.
"We know that there's a problem there, and it's a serious one," Marshall said.
Richard Myers, a law professor at UNC, said that he's not opposed to having a system to check the quality of judicial proceedings, but that statistics might not be the way to do it.
"I'm not opposed to having second-look mechanisms...the question is really the use of statistical evidence...who gets to decide the numbers."
Also discussed, Greg Taylor and Floyd Brown, both exonerated after being wrongfully held for crimes they did not commit, received multi-million dollar rewards from the State Bureau of Investigation this week. A third man, Larry Lamb was exonerated and should soon be set free after spending years in prison for murder. All the panelists agreed that mechanisms must exist by which these kinds of cases can be resolved in favor of the innocent.
The roundtable also discussed legislation that makes judicial discipline proceedings secret and allows the state supreme court to discipline its own members.
"We should have at least had the problem explained that is trying to be addressed here," Marshall said.
Whichard worries that the sanctity of the law could be hurt by the legislation.
"I think inevitably something like this creates suspicion in the public's mind," he said.
Audio for this segment will be posted by 3 p.m.
You can watch a series of video interviews with exonerees and read a series of exoneree profiles on WUNC’s After Innocence series page.