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News Roundup

March 1st, 2013
By Jeff Welty

The federal government’s “sequester,” a package of across-the-board budget cuts, starts today. Federal criminal justice agencies like the Bureau of Prisons aren’t happy about it. As NPR summarizes, “[c]orrections officers in the federal prison system are bracing for possible staffing cuts and furloughs . . . at a time when . . . inmate crowding and staff shortages in federal prisons are already posing challenges for guards trying to maintain order behind bars.” The federal court system is likewise planning for lean times, and federal grant funding for state agencies and organizations is likely to dwindle.

In other news:

  1. Racial disparities falling. Some racial disparities in imprisonment have been falling recently. The New York Times  reports here that “[i]ncarceration rates for black Americans dropped sharply from 2000 to 2009, especially for women, while the rate of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics rose over the same decade.” An expert cited in story suggests that a reduction in the “intensity of incarceration for drug offending” is part of the explanation. The story is based on a report by the Sentencing Project.
  2. Sentencing Commission on child pornography guidelines. Not to be confused with the Sentencing Project is the United States Sentencing Commission, which has also issued a noteworthy new report, on sentencing for child pornography offenses. For a long-winded government report, it’s pretty blistering about the child pornography guidelines, noting that judges usually don’t follow them; that they “no longer adequately distinguish[] among offenders based on their degrees of culpability”; and that “most stakeholders in the federal criminal justice system consider the nonproduction child pornography sentencing scheme to be seriously outmoded.”
  3. Supreme Court happenings. Sticking with the federal theme, the Supreme Court’s been in the news. First, it just heard Maryland v. King, the case about the constitutionality of collecting DNA upon arrest. Obviously, the decision has the potential to have a major impact in North Carolina; the argument transcript and lots of other information is here, on SCOTUSblog. Second, I continue to find Justice Thomas the most intriguing member of the Court. In this Atlantic piece, he explains why his opinions are shorter than his colleagues’, and written in plainer language. In essence, he wants the law to be “accessible to regular people.” Third, Justice Sotomayor used some pretty plain language herself in rebuking a federal prosecutor who said in closing argument, “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”
  4. Controversy in Chapel Hill. Closer to home, the student honor court at UNC Chapel Hill has been in the national news lately. Tendentious headlines abound, like this blog post which proclaims, “University of North Carolina student could be expelled for ‘intimidating’ her rapist by talking about her assault.” The News and Observer explores the matter further here. In brief, a female student “has been charged with an honor code violation [abusing or disparaging another] for speaking out about alleged abuse and sexual violence by an ex-boyfriend, who also is a UNC-CH student.” The ex-boyfriend was never charged criminally, and the student honor court found him not guilty of sexual assault, which makes the matter a little less clear-cut. The female student hasn’t identified the male by name in her public statements, which are part of a broader discussion about whether the administration has done everything it should to prevent sexual violence.
  5. Indispensable resource. Finally, the 2012 supplement to North Carolina Crimes is now available for purchase. Get it here, or subscribe to the electronic edition of North Carolina Crimes here.

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3 Responses to “News Roundup”

  1. Paul Ditz says:

    I seriously do not understand why anyone would think that the child pornography sentencing is too harsh. If anything, it is not harsh enough. The fact that judges do not follow the guidelines to me says more about the judges than it does the guidelines.

  2. Donna says:

    “Maryland v. King, the case about the constitutionality of collecting DNA upon arrest.”

    I have an idea. How about the NC police who pull over drivers for suspected DWI first offer the defendant a balance and breath test to allow for due process of the law before arresting them and seizing their DNA?

    Apparently in Wake County, there are only 4 breathlyzers which are outdated and generate false positives due to recording toothpaste/mouthwash that contains alcohol. Why doesn’t AG Roy Cooper order new breathylzers for highly populated counties in NC?

  3. Donna says:

    “Sticking with the federal theme, the Supreme Court’s been in the news. First, it just heard Maryland v. King, the case about the constitutionality of collecting DNA upon arrest.”

    Is the Supreme Court really going to allow police officers without nursing or scientific training to collect DNA from a defendant? LOL. In NC, AG Cooper hasn’t even trained them to conduct balance and breath tests correctly.

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