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News Roundup

August 11th, 2009
By Jeff Welty

There has been an endless parade of relevant news over the past week or so.

First, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in. This New York Times story about her confirmation gives you the basics if you’ve been living under a rock.

Second, I’ve just come back from a week of vacation in Canada. The locals were complaining about the brutal temperatures, which regularly pushed into the — gasp! — high 70s. Anyhow, reading the Toronto papers was an eye-opener, especially this article about an infamous white-collar criminal who fleeced innocent investors through a multi-million dollar accounting fraud. Sound like someone else who’s been in the news recently? Well, in Canada, such shenanigans will earn you a hefty sentence of . . . seven years. But you don’t start serving it until after your appeals are exhausted. And because of generous parole rules, you may be released in 14 months. And you may serve your time at a prison with an “executive golf course.” Sounds pretty brutal.

Third, a number of interesting items have cropped up in connection with sex offenders, including two articles (here and here) from The Economist, generally arguing that America’s sex offender registration regimes are too extensive, and a remarkable comment by a federal circuit court about a long sentence for a first offender in a child pornography case. A few tidbits on the lighter side of a serious subject include this story about an iPhone app for tracking sex offenders and, perhaps my favorite, this story about a man who claimed that his cat downloaded child pornography behind his back.

Fourth, another cluster of stories has come out, this one about prisons. There was a massive race riot at a California prison, which some have suggested may be due to a Supreme Court decision rejecting California’s previous practice of racial segregation in prison, and others have suggested may be connected to the state’s prison overcrowding. But no matter how bad the situation in California may be, it pales in comparison to the situation in Mexico, where complete corruption is the rule. The New York Times reports that “[w]hen life inside, with its pizza deliveries, prostitutes and binges on drugs and alcohol, becomes too confining, prisoners sometimes pay off the guards for a furlough or an outright jailbreak.”

Finally, the General Assembly is supposed to be winding down, but it is still cranking out bills, from the Racial Justice Act, which allows statistical evidence of racial discrimination to be introduced in capital cases (and which Governor Perdue reportedly will sign today), to a bill prohibiting “cyberbullying,” to bills that change the structured sentencing grid to the net modest benefit of defendants. I’ll try to do a more systematic analysis of the legislative session once it is complete.

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