My colleague Jeff Welty recently wrote about S.L. 2023-123 and changes to our death by drug distribution laws. He mentioned changes to the mandatory drug trafficking fines for certain drugs there, but I wanted to follow up on that point with the details. The new law, with new fines for certain controlled substances, takes effect on December 1, 2023. This post examines the coming changes to drug trafficking fines. Consistent with my defender-focused role, it also explores potential constitutional issues defenders might consider raising in cases where the new fines apply.
A group in Massachusetts is working to clear the names of people accused of witchcraft, according to this report from the AP. The Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project includes historians and distant relatives of the hundreds of people who were charged, tried for, or convicted of witchery in the state during the 17th century. A similar effort in Connecticut resulted in a legislative resolution of innocence on behalf of the accused and an apology. According to this story, the last witchcraft trial in North America took place in Virigina in 1706. Read on for more criminal law news.
I mentioned in a recent News Roundup that the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Smith v. Arizona. The case tees up a question that has been lingering since at least 2012: Does the Confrontation Clause permit the admission of substitute forensic analyst testimony? This issue arises when a forensic report is prepared for use in a criminal case, but the testing analyst is not available for trial. Instead of admitting the report through the original analyst, the State calls a different expert—one not necessarily involved in the original testing—to offer an opinion about the accuracy of the report. North Carolina generally allows such testimony, but there is a split among jurisdictions on the issue. Smith has the potential to alter the legal landscape here and elsewhere regarding the use of substitute analyst testimony, so today’s post dives into the legal issues and potential impact of the case.
After more than 25 years, an arrest has been made in the killing of the rapper Tupac Shakur, as AP news reports here. “Pac” died in a drive-by shooting in 1996 in Las Vegas at the age of 25. The suspect is charged in Nevada state court with murder by deadly weapon. Police allege that the man supplied the gun and otherwise assisted in the homicide. The defendant is the last living suspect in the case and has apparently publicly acknowledged his presence at the crime scene and involvement over the years. According to this piece from Time, the arrest is linked to the investigation of another infamous unsolved killing, the murder of Christopher Wallace, a/k/a “the Notorious B.I.G.” He was killed in Los Angeles at age 24 around six months after Tupac. The impact of both men’s short-lived careers on hip-hop can hardly be overstated. Still no word on who shot Biggie Smalls. Read on for more criminal law news.
A convicted murderer remains on the lam in the suburbs of Philadelphia following his escape from jail last week. The AP reports that the man was serving a life sentence for killing his former romantic partner when he climbed over a razor-wire-lined fence and walked away. The man has been seen around the area at least six times while managing to evade capture and is suspected of breaking into at least one area home. This has understandably caused considerable distress among community residents. Some schools have closed in response to the ongoing situation. The suspect is also wanted by Brazilian authorities in connection with another homicide there. Read on for more criminal law news.
The First Amendment permits criminal punishment for speech only when it falls within an established exception. True threats, incitement to violence, obscenity, and fighting words are among the categories of speech falling outside the protections of the First Amendment (although the fighting words exception is arguably defunct as a practical matter, as I wrote here). Each category has narrow definitions and standards that must be met as a matter of constitutional law before criminal liability can be imposed. My former colleague Jonathan Holbrook has written about the incitement exception and the true threats exception before. I wanted to write about another First Amendment exception, one that is much broader than the rest—speech integral to criminal conduct. Read on for the details.