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News Roundup

August 18th, 2011
By Jeff Welty

[Editor's note: I'm on vacation Friday, so I'm posting this roundup Thursday night.]

We welcomed a group of new magistrates at the School of Government this week. I like working with magistrates for lots of reasons, one of which is that they ask a lot of good questions. At least one upcoming blog post will attempt to answer a question that I was asked this week. In the meantime:

1. A superior court judge in Durham dismissed a murder case this week, ruling that the state improperly allowed the decedent’s bones to be returned to her family after the defense filed a motion to preserve all the physical evidence in the case. WRAL has the story here. A News and Observer story I read previously described the judge’s ruling as being based on the Brady line of cases, though it seems thatĀ Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), may be closer to the mark. I haven’t seen the order itself. Stay tuned, since the state plans to appeal.

2. The Fourth Circuit just decided United States v. Simmons, a big en banc case which holds that, when determining whether a federal criminal defendant’s prior North Carolina conviction was punishable by more than a year in prison and so is a “felony” for purposes of the recidivist provisions of the federal drug laws, the federal courts must look at the actual sentence that the particular defendant could have received under Structured Sentencing, not the maximum sentence that any defendant could have received. (I skimmed the opinion quickly, so federal practitioners, please jump in if I’ve expressed the holding imprecisely.) This is a very big deal in the federal courts and has the potential to impact a large number of cases in a significant way.

3. I’m getting more and more questions about the application of the evidence rules to digital evidence. (John Rubin wrote about that issue here.) A recent post on the Cyb3ercrime3 blog addresses the authentication of Facebook messages. The post is here; the nutshell version is that a Connecticut appellate court recently ruled that the mere fact that a message came from a person’s Facebook account is not sufficient to authenticate the message as coming from the account holder, given that the account may have been hacked or misappropriated.

4. Finally, some quick stories that may be of interest. A Wake Forest law student is getting a lot of attention for starting a blog called Confessions of an (Aspiring) Yalie, most of it not positive. Still, she’s not in as bad a spot asĀ this guy, who lost his license for “driving while texting on one phone and talking on a second.” I’m sure he was reading a newspaper on his iPad at the same time. Finally, a burning issue that I have debated many times over the course of my legal career: one space or two after a period? A good discussion — and the inarguably correct answer — is available here.

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