State v. Burke, 374 N.C. 617 (Jun. 5, 2020)

The defendant was sentenced to death for first-degree murder in 1993. He filed a first motion for appropriate relief in 1997, which was denied in 2011. He filed a new MAR under the North Carolina Racial Justice Act (the RJA MAR) in 2010, amending it twice after the General Assembly amended the RJA in 2012 and then repealed it in 2013. In 2014, the trial court dismissed the defendant’s amended RJA MAR as procedurally barred and, in the alternative, as being without merit. On appeal, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s orders and remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with the Court’s opinion in State v. Ramseur, ___ N.C. ___ (2020), summarized above. (1) The General Assembly’s 2013 repeal of the RJA was unconstitutional as applied to the defendant under the state and federal constitutions, and the 2012 amendment can only be applied insofar as it affects procedural aspects of his claim. (2) The Court held that the trial court erred by concluding that the defendant’s RJA MAR was procedurally barred, as the original version of the RJA included language, then codified in G.S. 15A-2012(b), allowing defendants to seek relief “[n]otwithstanding any other provision or time limitation” in the MAR article. (3) The Court also concluded that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing the defendant’s claims without an evidentiary hearing in light of the evidence presented in his motion, including evidence that race was a factor in jury selection, sentencing, and capital charging decisions in the relevant jurisdictions; statistical evidence from Michigan State University College of Law; expert testimony and evidence from another RJA case; and evidence of race-based juror strikes in his own case. The Court remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with its opinion. Justice Newby dissented for the reasons stated in his dissent in Ramseur.