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The Daily Tar Heel

Senate to Hear Reform Proposal

The bills request four death penalty reforms, including a moratorium on executions in the state until 2003.

If passed, the bill would halt executions in North Carolina until at least 2003, when the General Assembly would review a finalized death penalty study.

But Republican leaders say there is little chance that the temporary moratorium will pass due to the divided stance of legislators on either side of the aisle.

Ballance attributes the recent push for death penalty reform legislation to a transformation in the opinions of residents about capital punishment.

"I think attitudes are changing (in North Carolina) because people are realizing that innocent people are on death row," he said.

Last year, Ballance served as chairman of a legislative committee that examined the death penalty.

Two other pieces of legislation that will be introduced by Ballance call for banning execution of the mentally retarded and modifying court procedure for capital cases.

Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, who served on the legislative committee, said he supports both bills.

Senate Bill 173 would prohibit prosecutors from seeking capital punishment against defendants with an I.Q. under 70. Under the proposal, defendants could be judged "retarded" by the judge.

"The conclusion of the commission was that putting a mentally retarded person to death is unfair because they really don't know what's happening," Luebke said.

He added that medical experts consulted by the commission determined that a person with an I.Q. lower than 70 has the mental capacity of a child.

Senate Bill 171 aims to address the disproportionate number of cases in which the state seeks the death penalty against black defendants.

The bill would allow judges to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty in cases in which the judge discovers the prosecution is pursuing capital punishment based primarily on a defendant's race.

Luebke said the judge would be aided by a statistical breakdown of the district attorney's past trial record.

But Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said he believes such laws would lead to an increase in crime because people would not be afraid of receiving the death penalty. "I'm not in favor of those bills," he said. "I believe the death penalty is a good deterrent."

He also said SB 173 is unnecessary because the state must prove premeditation to seek the death penalty, which should exempt the mentally disabled.

Daughtry added that he does not think the bills will pass and believes the decision will be made based on personal opinion rather than party affiliation. "I don't think you can consider this a partisan issue."

But Luebke is optimistic about the bills' chances of passing.

"I think that these bills have a decent chance to pass," he said. "I think there has been an increased public awareness of the unfairness of the death penalty."

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