Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement this week with the hundreds of women that Larry Nassar sexually abused under the guide of medical treatment while working in the gymnastics community. The New York Times says that the settlement is the largest ever in a sexual abuse case involving an American university. Lawsuits against U.S.A. Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and other organizations still are pending. Nassar worked at Michigan State for 20 years, and some of his victims have said that the university ignored complaints about his behavior dating back to at least the late 90’s. Keep reading for more news.
In Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 1368 (2015), the Supreme Court held that North Carolina’s satellite-based monitoring regime for sex offenders is a search, but left it to North Carolina’s courts to decide whether it is an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We got an answer for one defendant this week, as Torrey Grady’s case circled back through the court of appeals. Continue reading
James Courtney was charged with first degree murder in 2009 for shooting and killing James Deberry outside Deberry’s Raleigh apartment. Courtney was tried on those charges in December 2010. The jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Four months later, the State dismissed the murder charges, stating on the dismissal form that it had elected not to retry the case. Four years later, the State changed its mind. After gathering new evidence, it sought and received a 2015 indictment once again charging Courtney with first degree murder for killing Deberry. Courtney moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the State’s dismissal of the initial murder charges following the mistrial precluded the State from recharging him. Was he right?
Back in April 2017, I blogged about State v. Jacobs, ___ N.C. App. ___, 798 S.E.2d 532 (March 12, 2017) here. That post focused on the preservation aspect of the case—the defendant failed to preserve a constitutional challenge to the trial court’s exclusion of evidence in a sexual assault prosecution. The alleged victim, the defendant’s minor daughter, had two sexually-transmitted diseases (“STDs”) that the defendant did not. The defendant wished to present expert testimony about the different test results. The trial court excluded the evidence under Rule 412, the rape shield rule, and the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed. Because no constitutional challenge to the ruling was made at trial, the Court of Appeals refused to consider the argument that the exclusion of the STD evidence violated the defendant’s right to present a defense. In a 6 to 1 opinion, the N.C. Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on the Rule 412 issue early last month, granting the defendant a new trial. State v. Jacobs, ___ N.C. ___, 811 S.E.2d 579 (April 6, 2018). Today’s post summarizes the Supreme Court decision, which adds a new wrinkle to the application of Rule 412 in rape and sexual offense cases. Continue reading
On Monday, the New Yorker reported that four women have accused New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of inflicting physical violence and other abuse upon them in the context of romantic relationships. The allegations have received significant national attention, in part because Schneiderman has presented himself publicly as a staunch supporter of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse. Schneiderman issued a statement contesting the allegations, but resigned from office within hours of the story’s publication; he is now under criminal investigation. Keep reading for more news.
Yesterday I went to Lillington to teach a class for the inmates in the North Carolina prison system’s Sex Offender Accountability and Responsibility (SOAR) program. I’d like to share a little bit about what I taught—and what I learned. Continue reading
Belk Department Stores are the Bloomingdales of North Carolina. If someone says they are going to Belk (or, more often, “Belk’s”), you know that they are heading into town to pick up some modern, southern style (or, more likely, something off the wedding registry). And if you hear that so-and-so stole something from your local Belk’s, you can generally picture the scene of crime, since, outside of the big cities, there is generally just one Belk’s in town. So when the court of appeals held last year that a Rowan County indictment alleging that the defendant stole shirts belonging to “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” was invalid because it failed to adequately identify the victim of the larceny, it may have left some people in Salisbury (where there is only one Belk’s) scratching their heads.
The state supreme court recently reversed that determination in a per curiam opinion that rejected this kind of technical pleading requirement for larceny of personal property.
The State of North Carolina goes to trial against Donnie Defendant, who is alleged to be the infamous “Tarheel State Killer” and charged with committing a series of brutal assaults and murders several decades ago. The state’s case depends heavily on matching DNA evidence from the crime scene to a sample of DNA taken off a cigarette butt discarded by Donnie. At trial, Special Agent Wanda Witness testifies as an expert in forensic DNA analysis for the state. After explaining the science behind PCR, STR, loci, and markers, Wanda opines that Donnie’s DNA is indeed a match to the DNA recovered from the crime scene.
Sounds like good news for the state, but what exactly does a “match” mean? And how may the significance or statistical probability of that “match” be expressed to the jury? It’s an important question, because what might sound like two similar ways of expressing the same probability can have dramatically different meanings – and possibly even be considered error on appeal.