News Roundup

Several recent news items may be of interest to readers of this blog:

1. FBI data shows that violent crimes, and especially homicides, dropped again last year and are now at rates that one expert says haven’t been seen since the 1960s. The FBI’s report is here and the News and Observer‘s story is here.

2. In my last news roundup, I noted the mounting evidence that Texas executed an innocent man. I recently came across this local story, which argues that Cameron Willingham wasn’t innocent at all. It’s a pretty compelling read and a nice counterpoint to the New Yorker piece I referenced earlier. (Hat tip: Crime and Consequences.)

3. The border search doctrine holds that suspicionless searches of anyone and anything coming into the United States are consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The Department of Homeland Security relies on the border search doctrine to search travelers’ laptop computers. Although these searches sometimes yield results — most often, as far as I can tell, by uncovering child pornography — business travelers and others have complained about them, especially when the authorities seize a computer and keep it for a protracted period of time for analysis. The Department recently issued a new set of standards for when and how it will conduct such searches. The policy, available here, is summarized and criticized here. This is relevant to North Carolina, because we have both a maritime border and several international airports.

4. North Carolina has a new cyberbullying law, making it a misdemeanor to undertake various computer activities in order to intimidate, tormet, or harrass minors. You can read the session law here. It’s been quietly controversial (if such a thing is possible), with odd bedfellows the ACLU and the Civitas Institute both concerned about its potentially far-reaching effects. Similar legislation has been proposed at the federal level, as a result of the so-called MySpace suicide case. Stay tuned for further developments.

5. Finally, on the lighter side, police in Kissimmee, Florida, arrested a man for chewing breath mints, which the police mistook for crack cocaine. The local story is here. (This story probably isn’t so “light” for the person arrested, since he apparently spent three months in jail awaiting lab test results.)