The major national criminal law news of the week was the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein on federal sex-trafficking charges involving underage girls. Epstein, who often is referred to as a billionaire financier though the extent and source of his wealth is largely shrouded in mystery, pleaded guilty in 2008 to prostitution charges in Florida state court as part of an unusually lenient plea agreement that allowed him to avoid serious federal sex crime charges and shielded any of his co-conspirators from prosecution. That plea agreement was approved by current Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who was the United States Attorney in the Southern District of Florida at the time. Over the years, Epstein has been connected to President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton. Keep reading for more news.
Though Independence Day has passed, the celebration will continue for many through a weekend of travel and events with family and friends. Through Friday evening, the NCDOT is suspending most major projects that require lane closure, and projects may be suspended on Sunday as well. Law enforcement agencies across the state are putting extra emphasis on safe driving and boating this weekend, planning impaired driving checkpoints and extra patrols with Operation Firecracker. If you shoot off any actual firecrackers, you might be violating state law and you shouldn’t compound the situation by doing it unsafely – be smart and consult the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s 2019 Fireworks Injuries poster. Enjoy the holiday weekend and keep reading for more news. Continue reading →
Last month the News Roundup noted that a federal judge had vacated Charles Ray Finch’s 1976 state conviction for murder. That ruling followed the Fourth Circuit’s decision earlier this year that Finch was entitled to a hearing on the merits of an untimely habeas petition because he met the actual innocence standard required to overcome his untimeliness. The Wilson Times reports that this week the Wilson County District Attorney’s Office formally dismissed the murder charge against Finch and will not retry him. The article says that Finch now will petition Governor Cooper for a pardon, which, if granted, would entitle him to compensation for the 40 years he spent in prison. Keep reading for more news.
Late last week the United States Supreme Court decided Flowers v. Mississippi, 588 U.S. ___, ___ S. Ct. ___ (Jun. 21, 2019), holding in the context of a Batson challenge that the trial court committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of a black prospective juror was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. This post provides a summary of Flowers and also contains links to other School of Government resources discussing Batson.
As the News Roundup noted last week, bills in the General Assembly that would require Sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts are causing some controversy. The News & Observer reports that the Sheriffs of Mecklenburg, Buncombe, and Wake counties attended a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting this week to express their opposition to House Bill 370, proposed legislation that essentially requires local law enforcement officials to cooperate with ICE and provides a mechanism to remove officials from office for failing or refusing to do so. This piece from the Daily Advance says that some Sheriffs in other jurisdictions have no problems with the bill. Keep reading for more news. Continue reading →
For many years, our colleague Jessie Smith prepared summaries of appellate cases and sent them out via the School of Government’s criminal law listserv. Because she is transitioning her work to focus on criminal justice policy, she will not be summarizing cases anymore, but several of us will collaboratively carry on the service. We will continue to send the summaries out using the listserv, and we are also going to post them here on the blog. Summaries of North Carolina Court of Appeals opinions from June 18, 2019 are provided below.
On Wednesday, Craig Stephen Hicks pleaded guilty to murdering Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha in a Chapel Hill home in February 2015; he received three consecutive life sentences. On a February evening, Hicks angrily confronted the victims at a condo that Barakat and Yusor shared in the same community where Hicks lived. Under the pretense of furthering an ongoing parking dispute, Hicks almost immediately drew a handgun and fatally shot the victims, each of whom was Muslim. Barakat was a student at UNC Dental School, where Yusor had recently been accepted as well, and Razan, visiting the couple for dinner, was attending NC State. Keep reading for more news.
The Gaston Gazette reports that Mark Carver has been granted a new trial after being convicted a decade ago of murdering UNC Charlotte student Ira Yarmolenko. A superior court judge ruled that Carver received ineffective assistance of counsel during his first trial. Chris Mumma of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence is representing Carver. District Attorney Locke Bell has said he will appeal the ruling and conduct a new trial if that appeal is not successful. Keep reading for more news.
Late last week a federal judge in Raleigh vacated Charles Ray Finch’s 1976 state conviction for murder and ordered that he be released from North Carolina prison after being incarcerated for 43 years for a killing that he did not commit. Finch is a client of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke Law School and Professor James Coleman Jr., the clinic’s co-director, served as his lead counsel. When Finch was convicted, he received a mandatory death sentence. That sentence was commuted to life without parole after the mandatory death penalty statute was held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Woodson v. North Carolina. Keep reading for more information about Finch’s case and other news.
The Herald Sun reported this week that Durham and several other cities across the state are moving previously untested rape kits into the evidence analysis process in an effort to clear North Carolina’s significant backlog of untested kits. Asheville has submitted the most kits for testing, followed closely by Durham and Winston-Salem. The article says that Attorney General Josh Stein has asked for additional funds for the State Crime Lab to provide more capacity for testing. Last year, a statewide inventory found that North Carolina had the largest backlog of untested kits in the nation.
We’ll return to blogging on Tuesday following the Memorial Day holiday. Keep reading for more news. Continue reading →