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February 1, 2024

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — In a victory under the new California Racial Justice Act, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal is allowing two Black men to move forward with their challenge to death penalty prosecutions being sought against them.

Lawyers for Russell Austin and Michael Mosby argued that the death penalty in Riverside County is tainted with racial inequality — and offered statistical studies, along with other evidence, reaching that conclusion.

The court ruled that Mr. Austin and Mr. Mosby met their initial burden and can continue their challenge, ordering the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing.

During the evidentiary hearing stage, Mr. Austin and Mr. Mosby will be able to present witnesses and evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty in Riverside County.

In response, Claudia Van Wyk, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, issued the following statement:

“This is exactly how the California Racial Justice Act is meant to work. The initial threshold to obtain an evidentiary hearing to prove our case under the CRJA should be easy to meet. The CRJA can only be effective if it is readily accessible to people whose cases are negatively impacted by systemic racial bias.

Our system of justice should take such challenges seriously and allow them to have a full hearing. That is the purpose of the CRJA: to stamp out racial inequality in the administration of justice. We cannot fear too much justice.

We are confident that we will present compelling evidence and witnesses to show that the administration of the death penalty in Riverside County is tainted by systemic racial bias. That entitles our clients to relief under the California Racial Justice Act.”

Robert Ponce, Capital Punishment Project fellow at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, issued the following statement: 

“Mr. Austin and Mr. Mosby are the first individuals facing capital prosecution who have been granted evidentiary hearings under the California Racial Justice Act. 

The CRJA forged a path for members of our communities to pursue justice within a legal system historically tainted by racial discrimination. All people in California — Mr. Austin and Mr. Mosby included — deserve access to a legal system that acknowledges the legacies and ongoing harm caused by systemic racial bias."