News Roundup

Can you name all nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court? Take a moment and test yourself before you read on.

How did you do? If you were able to name even one Justice, you are better informed about the Court than most Americans. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of us came up completely blank. Curious about which Justices are best known? About 20% of those surveyed were able to identify the Chief Justice, while Justices Scalia and Thomas were each named by 16% of participants. Only 3% named Justice Breyer – I struggled with him for a moment myself – while just 4% knew Justice Kagan.

In other news:

  1. I wrote here about United States v. Simmons, a Fourth Circuit case holding that certain North Carolina felonies do not meet the federal definition of a felony because, for some defendants, they are not punishable by more than one year in prison. I noted that there were a number of federal inmates who had been convicted of, for example, possession of a firearm by a felon, based on a previous North Carolina felony that no longer counts as a felony post-Simmons. Many of these inmates have no clear procedural avenue for relief, as the time for direct appeal and collateral review have both expired. But according to this story, the government is no longer opposing relief for at least some of the inmates in question. A spokesperson stated that “the Department of Justice has decided to take a litigating position designed to accelerate relief for defendants in these cases who, by virtue of a subsequent court decision, are no longer guilty of a federal crime.” It isn’t the end of this story, but it is a start.
  2. Turning to the state courts, delays as a result of a backlog at the SBI Lab State Crime Lab are growing more common. Apparently, the lab has lost some staff, and the remaining analysts are spending more time traveling and testifying than ever before as a result of Crawford and its progeny. The News and Observer has the story here.
  3. Meanwhile, Attorney General Roy Cooper told a national conference that the collection of DNA from arrestees “pinpoints suspects more quickly, gets predators off the streets sooner, and clears suspects who have been wrongly accused.” Collecting DNA from arrestees – rather than only from those who have been convicted of a crime – is a relatively new practice in North Carolina, and the legality of it remains unsettled. The United States Supreme Court appears poised to review the issue in its 2012 Term, so stay tuned.
  4. There were a couple of interesting developments this week in the law and technology world. First, California’s legislature passed the Location Privacy Act, which requires law enforcement to get a warrant before getting GPS or other tracking data from mobile telecommunications service providers. (Previously, the procedures for obtaining such information were governed almost exclusively by federal statutory law; although the area is complicated and controversial, most courts allowed law enforcement to obtain such information based on a showing less strict than probable cause.) It will be interesting to see if other states follow suit. Second, federal drug charges against a fugitive doctor have been dismissed because the two terabytes of evidence collected against the defendant consumes 5% of the DEA’s total worldwide storage capacity. Seriously? The DEA couldn’t just order an extra 2 TB hard drive from Amazon for $108? I’ll kick in for the extra USB cable myself.
  5. I often close with odd and somewhat light stories. This week, I gathered two stories that are really, really odd, but maybe not so light. In Delaware, several daycare workers have been charged with organizing fights between three-year-olds. It’s being called a “Toddler Fight Club,” and there’s video evidence, according to an officer: “One of the kids involved ran over to one of the adults for protection, but she turned him around back into the fight.” And, yet another story came out this week about the prison experience awaiting Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik: he will have not one, not two, but three private cells: a “bedroom”; an exercise room complete with treadmill; and a study with a TV, computer, and newspaper access. There will be 17 staffers devoted exclusively to his care, at an annual cost of approximately $1.5 million. I’m sure that this setup makes perfect sense to Norwegians, but to most Americans, it does not.

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