News Roundup

The biggest news locally this week was the General Assembly’s passage of S 416, which will dramatically alter, if not effectively repeal, the Racial Justice Act. I summarized the bill briefly last week and may have more to say about it if and when it becomes law. For now, it’s on the Governor’s desk, though even if she vetoes it, it appears that the bill’s supporters have the votes to override. In other news:

This News and Observer story about the implementation of the Justice Reinvestment Act caught my eye. The gist is this: “The theory behind the . . . Act was that more intensive supervision of offenders who had been released into the community would prevent them from returning to prison. Eventually, that approach was supposed to save the state the cost of building more prisons, and make everyone safer. But for all the fanfare about the cutting-edge crime-fighting plan, lawmakers left out one key ingredient: money to pay for probation officers to supervise the newly released prisoners.” Apparently, states across the country are struggling to figure out what to do with defendants who have been diverted from prison – and how to pay for programs that may help them stay out of trouble.

The Supreme Court handed down a couple of sentencing decisions yesterday. In a nutshell, Southern Union v. United States applies the Apprendi rule to fines: it holds that any fact that increases a defendant’s statutory maximum fine must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Meanwhile, Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States rule that federal crack offenders who committed their crimes before a recent favorable revision in the crack sentencing laws, but who were not sentenced until after the revision had been enacted, were entitled to the benefit of the revision. Of the two, Southern Union strikes me as being of greater lasting importance, though I’m not sure that there’s a big immediate impact in North Carolina. The Court didn’t decide the juvenile LWOP cases yesterday, but the summer recess is nigh, so it won’t be long.

Speaking of not long, the Jerry Sandusky trial is racing towards a conclusion. (Recall that he is the former Penn State assistant football coach accused of sexually assaulting a number of boys.) The case proves that high-profile trials don’t need to drag along interminably: although the case involved approximately 50 different counts, jury selection began June 5, and the jury got the case yesterday. Just about two weeks, start to finish.

Solitary confinement has come under increasing scrutiny recently, with a Senate subcommittee investigating it use, and perhaps abuse, and the New York Times editorializing on point. I haven’t yet heard much about this issue in North Carolina. I don’t know whether that’s because the practice is used more sparingly here than elsewhere, or for some other reason. I’d be interested in insights from knowledgeable readers.

Being a recent law school graduate is definitely not as bad as being in solitary confinement, but it isn’t exactly a bed of roses, either. New ABA employment data is available here, broken down by law school. Graduates of top-tier schools are mostly finding something, but at many less prestigious institutions, fewer than half of all graduates have found legal employment.

Finally, a story with a very minimal criminal law collection, but one that simultaneously destroys and restores one’s faith in humanity. A 68-year-old school bus monitor in New York was recently taunted to the point of tears by a group of middle school students. During the incident, which was caught on video and posted to the internet, the kids called her “poor,” “trash,” “fat,” and “ugly,” plus some names not suitable for repeating on a family blog. One even said “you don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you,” apparently not knowing that the woman’s son had, in fact, committed suicide. In response, a friend started an online fund, seeking donations to finance a vacation for the bus monitor, who earns $15,506 annually. The goal was to raise $5,000 . . . but a massive outpouring of support has brought in (as of this writing) over $390,000. That will be one heck of a vacation! Here’s one story about the incident, and you can check the fundraising progress here.

3 thoughts on “News Roundup”

  1. The other thing the legislature forgot to fund was more prosecutors and court time to handle the huge increase in probation violation hearings. This thing is a mess, and will ultimately wind up costing us more money in the long run.

  2. I just got a visit from my probation officer and found I was just moved from a level 4 to level 2 for no reason of my own because of recent changes to probation in NC. I am a misdemeanor offender for a dui being treated like a felon and don’t understand the logic. I am almost done with probation and now I am not even sure if I will be let off…. This system is so screwed up, unfair and unproductive it makes me sick.9


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