News Roundup

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There’s a pretty strong argument that the state court system is underfunded. And there’s a pretty strong argument that the federal court system is underfunded. The Judicial Conference of the United States makes the latter pitch in this letter to President Obama, noting that budget cuts have impacted “all aspects of court operations,” including reducing the staffing of clerks’ offices and probation offices, slowing case disposition, and reducing funding for drug testing and mental health treatment for offenders. But “the most significant impact of the budget cuts . . . has been the reduction in funding for Defender Services,” including public defender furloughs and rate cuts and payment delays for court-appointed private lawyers. Somewhat similar measures have been taken in our state system, as well.

In other news:

Shakeup in United States Attorney’s Office. Staying with the federal court theme, I noted previously that the Fourth Circuit recently took the unusual step of criticizing the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina for what the court described as a pattern of discovery abuse. The Charlotte Observer reported this week that Thomas Walker, the United States Attorney, has removed several prosecutors from senior roles and has adopted new policies designed to increase transparency.

Charlotte School of Law Is the State’s Biggest, But Is It Worth the Price? This public radio story notes that Charlotte School of Law is “the largest law school in the state, by far,” with 1,500 students, but that its bar passage rate isn’t great and only about half of its 2012 graduates found a job that requires a law degree. The school is controversial in part because it is for profit, and is expensive. Several current or former students posted comments to the story, and most expressed a favorable view of the school.

New DWI Unit in Raleigh PD. The News and Observer reports here that the Raleigh PD has created a new unit to focus just on DWI cases. DWI arrests are projected to increase from about 1500 per year to over 2000 per year – creating a bonanza for both public safety and for lawyers specializing in DWI defense. The unit will be funded by a half million dollar federal grant.

Teenagers and False Confessions. According to this Wall Street Journal article, there is a growing body of evidence that “[j]uveniles are more likely than adults to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.” Seems like it might be a good idea to take steps to safeguard against coercive interrogation, such as requiring interrogations of juveniles to be recorded. (Oh, wait. We already require that.)

Is It OK to Teach Others “Physical and Mental Polygraph Countermeasures”? An Indiana man thought so, and made a business out of teaching sex offenders and others how to beat the tests. But he was prosecuted in federal court after working with two undercover officers who had claimed that they needed to defeat a polygraph in order to complete criminal activity. Ars Technica has this interesting article about the case, and where free speech ends and criminal conspiracies begin.

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