News Roundup

Fall is here, meaning cooler weather, leaves changing colors, and of course, elections. The North Carolina Bar Association has a new website that provides the results of performance surveys regarding incumbent trial court judges and their challengers. There are also elections for several seats on the court of appeals, and one on the state supreme court. In the latter race, this News and Observer article states that “[Court of Appeals Judge Sam] Ervin leads [incumbent Justice Paul] Newby by a 31-23 margin margin, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm based in Raleigh.” Sound like a football score? That’s because a massive 46 percent of voters are totally unfamiliar with the candidates and their judicial philosophies are undecided. Judge Ervin aims to reach some of those voters with a series of ads to be aired during the Judge Judy TV show.

In other news:

  1. The Washington Post reported here on the exoneration of Louisiana death row inmate Damon Thibodeaux, who falsely confessed to the rape and murder of his 14-year-old cousin but was freed after an unusual joint reinvestigation by the prosecution and the defense showed that almost every aspect of his confession – given after a long and grueling interrogation – was demonstrably false. The Innocence Project counts him as the 300th person, and 18th death row inmate, freed on the basis of DNA evidence, though it appears from the story that the principal relevance of DNA evidence in this case was that there wasn’t any.
  2. Speaking of DNA evidence, the National Institute of Justice, part of the United States Department of Justice, has just released this free, 200-page publication entitled DNA for the Defense Bar. It is exactly what the title suggests, a primer on DNA evidence for defense attorneys. The NIJ has previously published DNA guides for prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officers; I assume that this completes the series.
  3. And speaking of death row, this article by Damien Echols contains some of his recollections of life there. (Echols was one of the so-called West Memphis Three. He and his codefendants were convicted of murdering three young boys, but they maintained their innocence, picked up celebrity backers, and eventually were freed under a negotiated Alford plea that resulted in sentences of time served – at that point, 18 years. At least that’s what Wikipedia says.) One interesting passage concerns pets in prison: “The kitten [that Echols briefly kept] wasn’t the only pet to ever be kept on Death Row. The most common are mice and rats, but I’ve also seen spiders, a couple snakes, and even a bird. . . .The biggest rat I’ve ever seen in my life was raised by a guy here. It was as big as a Chihuahua, and he even fashioned a collar for it. It was as tame as any household pet and slept in the same bed as the guy who had trained it.” That may give me nightmares!
  4. Finally, a couple of stories on the lighter side. First, as if New Orleans hasn’t had enough problems, now the Saints stink and the city’s prosecutors are dropping marijuana joints out of their pants in court. And second, Tennessee’s probation and parole authorities monitored at least 82 dead supervisees last year. On the one hand, I doubt they committed a lot of new crimes, but on the other, I bet they missed quite a few office visits.
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