News Roundup

The North Carolina Supreme Court granted Wednesday the state’s petition for a writ of supersedeas to stay enforcement of the court of appeals’ judgment in State v. McKenzie, ___ N.C. App. ___ (January 15, 2012). McKenzie held, over a dissent, that the one-year disqualification of a defendant’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) based on the issuance of a civil license revocation for impaired driving is so punitive that it amounts to criminal punishment. Thus, the majority concluded that prosecution for impaired driving after such a CDL disqualification violated double jeopardy. McKenzie is a big deal in the world of DWI prosecutions. The Attorney General stated in the petition that more than 4,000 CDLs had been disqualified on the grounds at issue in McKenzie, and that more than one-quarter of these disqualifications still were pending. Defendants facing impaired driving charges following this sort of CDL revocation were moving before McKenzie to dismiss their criminal charges on double jeopardy grounds—the Attorney General reported that there are three additional pending appeals raising identical claims to McKenzie—and presumably many more will move for dismissal now. The stay affords the State some breathing room in these prosecutions while it seeks review of the court of appeals’ holding in the state supreme court. Given the stay, trial courts are not bound by McKenzie, though obviously they may still be persuaded to dismiss based on its reasoning.

In other news:

  1. Yesterday, Attorney General Roy Cooper and Wake County District Attorney Colin Willoughby called for the General Assembly to pass laws authorizing state prosecutors to convene investigative grand juries and to make lying to an SBI agent a felony. The veteran prosecutors say they need these tools to fight public corruption. The Attorney General’s press release is here; the News and Observer story is here.
  2. The New York Times reports that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced yesterday a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Feinsten reportedly acknowledged the “uphill road,” in pursuing such legislation. The Times reports that more legislative proposals to regulate the purchase and sale of guns are expected in the few weeks.
  3. The Seventh Circuit earlier this week struck down on First Amendment grounds an Indiana statute prohibiting most registered sex offenders from using social networking websites. Doe v. Prosecutor, 2013 WL 238735, ___ F.3d __ (7th Cir. January 23, 2013). The court determined that the statute “broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.” Like Indiana, North Carolina also bans registered sex offenders from using certain social networking websites. G.S. 14-202.5. Politico reports here on Doe and challenges to similar laws in other states.
  4. Finally, one of the School of Government’s greats was honored this week by North Carolina Chief Justice Sarah Parker. My colleague, mentor, and friend James (Jim) Drennan received the Chief Justice’s Professionalism Award, which was presented at a joint dinner of the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Bar Association. Jim’s contributions to North Carolina’s justice system are numerous. For nearly four decades, he has taught, consulted with, and written for judicial officials. His fields of expertise have included the broad areas of court administration, judicial ethics and fairness, judicial leadership, criminal sentencing, and motor vehicle law. In addition to being an outstanding teacher, scholar and writer, Jim is a kind, humble, caring and generous person. Congratulations to him on this well-deserved recognition.