News Roundup

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For the first time ever, the North Carolina Prosecutors’ Trial Manual is available to the general public for purchase from the School of Government bookstore. The brand-new Fifth Edition, completely revised by my colleague Bob Farb, is offered here in PDF format. It costs $175 and weighs in at over 950 pages, covering nearly every aspect of criminal procedure.

In other news:

  1. The court of appeals just reversed Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s dismissal of charges in State v. Dorman, a Durham murder case. In a nutshell, the defendant was charged after an investigation that began when authorities learned that he was storing human bones in a backpack at his home. The state’s experts analyzed the bones, but they were released to the victim’s family and were cremated before defense experts could test them. Judge Hudson determined that this was an irreparable statutory and constitutional discovery violation and dismissed the case. The court of appeals praised Judge Hudson’s “diligence and persistence” in protecting the defendant’s rights but reversed, ruling that it was premature to conclude that the defendant suffered irreparable harm. The court has now reversed Judge Hudson in both of the murder cases at the center of former Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline’s removal proceeding. Judge Hudson told the News and Observer that “[i]t was her actions, not my actions,” that led to Cline’s removal. Neutral fact-finders have agreed so far, but Cline’s appeal of her removal was itself just argued before the court of appeals.
  2. Much, much farther afield is disturbing news from South Africa. Oscar Pistorius, a/k/a the Blade Runner, a double amputee sprinter who became the first Paralympian to run in the Olympic Games, has been arrested and charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reevan Steenkamp. Pistorius shot her at 3 a.m. through the door of the bathroom adjoining his bedroom. The prosecution claims that the shooting followed a quarrel. The defense claims Pistorius thought an intruder was in the bathroom. The lead investigator has just been replaced after himself being charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. It’s a circus, and a tragedy.
  3. Influential conservative columnist George Will just published this piece, arguing that the widespread use of solitary confinement in prisons, especially so-called Supermax prisons, is cruel, unusual, unnecessary, counterproductive, and torturous. Other than that, he likes it.
  4. In other cheery news, the United States Sentencing Commission recently released a report analyzing racial disparities in federal sentencing. The Wall Street Journal summarizes that “[p]rison sentences of [similarly-situated] black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men . . . . [and] [t]hat racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005. . . . The commission, which is part of the judicial branch, was careful to avoid the implication of racism among federal judges, acknowledging that they ‘make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured.’” The full report is here. The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission produces annual reports – the latest one is here – but they do not appear to address whether racial disparities in sentencing exist. If you know of North Carolina studies on point, please weigh in.
  5. In Georgia, Warren Lee Hill was granted a last-minute stay of execution after three experts, who had previously testified for the state that Hill was not mentally retarded, changed their minds and endorsed the diagnosis. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has the story, which has attracted international attention, here. Hill was incarcerated for murdering his girlfriend when he beat another inmate to death with a board. The case has drawn attention to the fact that Georgia, the first state to ban execution of the mentally retarded, is now the only state that requires defendants to prove mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.
  6. Finally, remember that Colorado has legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but not its sale. Lo and behold, innovative Colorado merchants are now offering marijuana as a free gift – with a qualifying purchase of other merchandise. The Denver Post has the story,  a testament to human ingenuity, here.
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