Columbus – Today, Assistant Democratic Leader Charleta B. Tavares (D - Columbus) expressed her support for the Ohio Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force to Review and Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty recommendation to ensure racial fairness by eliminating bias and discrimination in decision-making. The Task Force recently voted 13-1 for enactment of a Racial Justice Act[1], which is similar to legislation introduced by Senator Tavares in September of 2013.

Senate Bill 183, also know as The Racial Justice Act, will allow capital defendants and inmates to use statistical evidence in support of a claim that their sentences were “sought or imposed” in part because of racial discrimination. Defendants will be able to bring this claim during a trial or appellate court proceedings, and inmates will be able to bring this claim as a post-conviction claim. The Racial Justice Act will allow defendants who are facing the death penalty to present evidence of racial bias, including statistics, in court. 

“I applaud the Ohio Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty in making this recommendation,” stated Senator Tavares. “State and national studies including the Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force and the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness (1999) reports have documented that race has some influence in whether the death penalty is pursued. The Racial Justice Act is needed to make sure every defendant is prosecuted without any discrimination or bias.”

In the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness report Stephen B. Bright, Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia states “one reason for the disparities in seeking the death penalty was racial bias by the prosecutors in their dealings with the families of the victims.” Mr. Bright wrote that in cases “involving white victims, the prosecutors met with the victim’s family and deferred to their family’s decision about whether to seek the death penalty. But prosecutors did not even consult with family members in cases involving black victims, and the families of African-Americans were often not even notified of the dates of proceedings or the resolution of the case with a plea bargain.”

In its recommendation the Joint Task Force stated, “A Racial Justice Act would allow the use of statistics to show a likelihood of race discrimination infecting a prosecution or decisions made during the prosecution. That would oblige the State to show there was no discrimination and race-neutral reasons that explained the decision-made. Present law forecloses looking at issues of race discrimination unless the defendant proves a State actor intentionally discriminated, which is nearly impossible to prove unless someone admits to discrimination. Presently statistics are not enough to raise a challenge or even get an opportunity to have access to information that may help prove discrimination occurred.”

Senate Bill 183 has been assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee, but has yet to have any hearings.


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