News Roundup

The new year has begun with a bang: lots of criminal law news this week. For example, the General Assembly considered Wednesday night whether to override the Governor’s veto of the bill that would have effectively repealed the Racial Justice Act. The Senate voted 31-19 to override the veto, along party lines. But the House did not vote; it appears from this newspaper story that the outcome of a vote was uncertain, but perhaps unlikely to result in an override, and an agreement was reached instead to create a new “House Select Committee on Racial Discrimination in Capital Cases” to attempt to draft a compromise revision of the Act. At least one talking head thinks that the combination of further legislative pondering plus litigation under the still-effective Act will extend North Carolina’s de facto moratorium on executions for another five years. In other news:

1. The North Carolina Bar Association released its first-ever Judicial Performance Evaluation Report, which reveals lawyers’ views about the quality of superior and district court judges who are eligible for election in 2012. A press release about the report and a link to the report itself are available here. Most judges received positive reviews, but there were a few noteworthy outliers. It appears that the Bar Association will attempt to review candidates running against the judges as well. If anyone knows how that’s supposed to work, please post a comment.

2. Speaking of judges, Governor Perdue has named the members of the new Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission is intended to be nonpartisan, but Republicans contend that it is stacked with Democrats, as the News and Observer reports here.

3. In the “criminals are not rocket scientists” department, the Winston-Salem Journal reports here that a Lexington man was arrested after attempting to buy $476 worth of merchandise (including a vacuum cleaner) at Wal-Mart using a one million dollar bill. Problem number one: there is no such bill. The largest bill in circulation is the $100 bill, though larger denominations were infrequently available before 1969. Problem number two: I seriously doubt that the cashier had $999,524 in change in the register. But I’m just guessing.

4. The Fourth Circuit has been busy lately. A couple of its decisions have garnered particular attention: in United States v. Edwards, discussed here, the court ruled that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when they used a knife to cut a bag containing drugs off an arrestee’s, um, private parts. The court viewed the officers’ actions as creating a “significant and . . . unnecessary risk of injury,” though the arrestee was not in fact injured; the judges suggested manually untying the bag or using “blunt scissors.” Meanwhile, in United States v. Chapman, the court rejected a Second Amendment challenge to the federal law that prohibits persons who have been convicted of domestic violence offenses from possessing guns. A mildly critical review of the case is available here.

5. Finally, the News and Observer carried an AP story, here, about Florida v. Jardines, a case in which the Supreme Court is considering a petition for certiorari. Essentially, the Florida courts ruled that letting a drug dog sniff the front door of a residence, and using the dog’s alert to obtain a search warrant for the home, violates the Fourth Amendment. It sounds like the state courts distinguished Illinois v. Caballes because Jardines involved a residence, not an automobile, but there’s enough doubt about that rationale that lots of Court watchers expect certiorari to be granted. As always, we will keep you posted.

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