In the 1972 Furman vs. Georgia case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional when juries weom local governments and assumed bythe state. The first execution by the state government was in 1910, by electrocution. Between 1910 and 1961, the state executed another 361 persons.
In the 1972 Furman v. Georgia case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional when juries were permitted to exercise unbridled discretion in imposing the death penalty. In light of that decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty would be mandatory for certain crimes. The number of inmates climed to an all-time high of 120, at that time the highest number in the nation. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s mandatory death penalty in 1976 in the case of Woodson vs. North Carolina. The 120 inmates awaiting execution had their sentences vacated, many received new trials, and most were re-sentenced to life in prison. North Carolina legislated a new death penalty law in 1977 which has remained in effect through the present.
No one was executed in North Carolina between 1961 and 1984. When executions resumed, inmates were allowed to choose the manner of death – gas or lethal injection. Of the ten people executed between 1984 and 1998, all but two chose lethal injection. Lethal injection is currently the only allowed execution method.
In 2001, North Carolina launched a first-of-its-kind in the nation Innocence Inquiry Commission. The Commission was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2006 and began operating in 2007. Since then, the Commission has reviewed hundreds of innocence claims and conducted multiple hearings. On February 17, 2010, Gregory Taylor was the first person to be exonerated by this unique process. Mr. Taylor was declared innocent by a panel of three judges after serving 17 years for a murder that he did not commit.
In August 2009, North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act, which prohibits seeking or imposing the death penalty on the basis of race, includes the use of statewide statistical evidence to show a pattern of racial discrimination, and applies retroactively for one year. Kentucky was the first state to pass a Racial Justice Act, though North Carolina’s differs from Kentucky’s as it allowed for retroactive application and also permitted the use of statistical evidence to show that race was a “significant factor in decisions to seek or impose the sentence of death in the county, the prosecutorial district, or the State at large at the time the death sentence was sought or imposed.”
Since 2007, the state has been under an execution moratorium due to constitutionality concerns about its lethal injection protocol and the death penalty’s fair application. This multi-year moratorium is the longest gap in executions since before 1961. Also since 2007, four persons on the state’s death row have been exonerated, further strengthening the argument for ending the use of the death penalty in The Tar Heel State.
CMN State Spotlight – April 2012
“While support for the death penalty is waning in North Carolina, resumption of executions remains a real prospect. Continued and active advocacy is needed to prevent executions from restarting. ”