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The administration of the death penalty in North Carolina dates back to colonial times. Over 780 persons have been executed in North Carolina before the 1972 Furman v. Georgia case, which temporarily halted the death penalty in many states, including North Carolina. 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 climbed 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. Today, Lethal injection is 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. 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. 

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, five persons on the state’s death row have been exonerated, further strengthening the argument for ending the use of the death penalty in North Carolina.

For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:

North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

The N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a non-partisan network of organizations and citizens across the state who work cooperatively to  reform North Carolina’s capital punishment system. Our members include attorneys, politicians, faith communities and nonprofit organizations dedicated to criminal justice reform, victims’ rights and restorative justice. 


Click here for the North Carolina Fact Sheet