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North Carolina Racial Justice Act Research Project

MSU Law Professors O’Brien and Grosso show striking patterns of racial discrimination in North Carolina capital case charging, sentencing, and juror selection decisions.


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  • Study by MSU Law Professors O'Brien and Grosso Again Used in Court As Evidence of Racial Bias in Capital Case Jury Selection

    The Jury Selection Study by MSU Law Professors O'Brien and Grosso was again used in a North Carolina court as evidence of racial bias. The sentences of three death row inmates were successfully vacated to life in prison without possibility of parole.

  • Order Granting Motions for Appropriate Relief (PDF)
  • Judge Reads Decision »

Study by MSU Law Professors O'Brien and Grosso Used in Court as Evidence of Racial Bias in Capital Case Jury Selection

  • A Jury Selection Study by Michigan State University College of Law Professors Catherine Grosso and Barbara O'Brien is a key piece of evidence in the first case to get to court under North Carolinas Racial Justice Act.

    The study is one of two that Professors Grosso and O'Brien conducted in response to the Act, which was signed into law in August 2009. The landmark studies show striking patterns of racial discrimination in the state's capital case charging, sentencing, and juror selection decisions.

    The Jury Selection Study is the first of its kind to examine whether prosecutors systematically excluded qualified African-Americans from capital trial juries. According to the results, prosecutors were more than twice as likely to strike qualified blacks from serving on a jury as members of other races in North Carolina death penalty cases in the 20-year-period from 1990 to 2010.

    The Racial Justice Act allows capital defendants to introduce statistical evidence to show whether race played a significant role in the state's decision to seek or impose a death sentence. If race is a factor, the statute prohibits the imposition of the death penalty. More than 150 North Carolina death row inmates have cited the Jury Selection Study in claims that racial bias played an important part in their cases; those who succeed will be re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    A second study by Grosso and O'Brien found similarly dramatic disparities in North Carolina capital case charging and sentencing decisions, based on the race of the victim. The data reveal that defendants in cases from 1990 to 2009 were significantly more likely to be charged and sentenced to death if at least one of the victims was white. A final report of this study is forthcoming.

    Michigan State University College of Law provided all operational costs for the North Carolina Racial Justice Act Research Project.

Dean Howarth &
Professor O'Brien


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