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News Roundup

February 17th, 2012
By Jeff Welty

There’s been a lot going on this week. The first evidentiary hearing under the Racial Justice Act has come to an end. The Fayetteville Observer reports on the parties’ closing arguments here. Both sides are expected to file additional briefs, and a decision is unlikely for several weeks. The national media is interested in the story, as evidenced by this Wall Street Journal post. In Durham, embattled District Attorney Tracey Cline secured one continuance of her removal hearing, hired an attorney, and has now asked for additional time to prepare her defense. The News and Observer story is here. Meanwhile, various arms of the General Assembly are considering criminal law issues, such as possible reforms to the Innocence Inquiry Commission, and possible changes to the Racial Justice Act.

If that’s not enough:

1. The New Orleans Police Department is going to place big red stickers on every house it has “checked” or “investigated” for drug activity based on a Crimestoppers tip, apparently regardless of the results of the investigation. Anyone can remove the stickers at any time, and the glue supposedly causes no damage to property. Read more here on what strikes me as an impressively bad idea.

2. Staying in the Big Easy, Above the Law reports here on a fascinating story. The short version is that the public defender’s office in the city is overburdened, especially after budget cuts forced it to let 21 attorneys go last week. A criminal court judge who views the situation as a “constitutional emergency” ordered a bunch of lawyers to represent indigent defendants. And not just any lawyers — his list included “state Sens. Jean Paul Morrell, Karen Peterson and Edwin Murray; Times-Picayune publisher Ashton Phelps Jr. . . . Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche; and frequent media legal commentators Robert Jenkins, Dane Ciolino and Joseph Raspanti, among others.” Some of the lawyers have already moved to withdraw, citing a lack of experience in criminal cases.

3. Nevada has become the first state to authorize self-driving cars on the public roads. The future is here. Oh, and the story is here. Shea’s prior post exploring some of the legal issues with “autonomous vehicles” is here.

4. Absolutely awful news from Honduras, where the most recent in a series of terrible prison fires killed over 300 inmates. The Washington Post story is here. When the fire began, only six guards were on duty at a prison with over 850 inmates. Early reports suggest that the guards fled with their keys when the fire started, leaving the inmates to die.

5. Returning to North Carolina and a somewhat cheerier note, School of Government faculty members have been blanketing the media lately. Jim Drennan was quoted on the front page of the News and Observer concerning the Cline removal hearing; Jessie Smith was in the paper today talking about Chapel Hill’s investigation into the police raid on activists who had occupied a vacant storefront on Franklin Street; and yours truly had his fifteen minutes of fame as a guest on WUNC’s radio show The State of Things, talking about the Fayetteville City Council’s moratorium on certain consent searches by police. The audio archive is here.

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