News Roundup

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Looking for some great beach reading? Look no further than the 2013 Punishment Chart for North Carolina Crimes and Motor Vehicle Offenses by Bob Farb! Available here, it is 129 pages of legal goodness. It contains information about statutory penalties for North Carolina crimes, including which offenses require sex offender registration. The Administrative Office of the Courts has purchased copies of the book and will distribute them to judges, magistrates, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, and select IDS and AOC offices by the end of July.

In other news:

New District Attorney in District 24. Governor McCrory has appointed Seth Banks the interim DA in District 24, which includes Watauga County and nearby areas. Recall that long-time DA Jerry Wilson stepped down two months ago due to health issues, and that former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr was appointed interim DA. After Banks won the Republican primary, and given that there is no Democrat running for the job, Orr chose to resign to allow the presumptive new DA to begin work early. A local story with more details is here.

Justice Reinvestment reducing recidivism? The News and Observer reports here that in the past few years, “North Carolina saw a 19.3 percent decrease in recidivism, according to the report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center . . . . The state’s improving rate was credited to a Justice Reinvestment initiative that began in 2009.” The full report is here. At a glance, it appears that the reduction is in the percentage of released inmates who return to prison within three years, not necessarily the percentage that commit new crimes within three years. Perhaps Jamie will analyze the report in a future post.

Innocence Inquiry Commission sends case to judicial review. WRAL reports here that the Innocence Inquiry Commission has sent a 38-year-old Durham murder case to a three-judge panel for review. Defendant Willie Womble signed a confession to the crime, but he is illiterate and testified that he was coerced into signing the document. The case came to light when Womble’s codefendant “sent a letter to the Innocence Commission . . . saying Womble had nothing to do with it. . . . [The codefendant] said . . . that he decided to come forward only because the man who he says was actually with him died in 2012 and that he felt he would no longer be breaking a pact not to implicate him.”

Amazing new technology for detecting impaired driving. Check out this Science Daily article, the summary of which states: “An external laser device can detect the present of alcohol vapors in passing vehicles. . . . The laser system is set up on the side of the road to monitor each car that passes by. If alcohol vapors are detected in the car, a message with a photo of the car including its license plate is sent to a police officer waiting down the road. Then, the police officer stops the car and checks for signs of alcohol using conventional tests.” The device, invented by Polish scientists and not yet commercially available, can detect alcohol vapors at the 0.1% BAC level. It can’t tell whether it is the driver or a passenger that has been drinking. Fourth Amendment issues might be lurking but to the extent that the device is deployed on the public roads, I suspect courts would allow it.

Defendant freed by mistake meets untimely demise. Finally, an incredible story from Fresno, California. A defendant was on trial for burglary. The jury was divided 8-4 for conviction, but apparently didn’t know how to indicate that to the court and so completed a verdict form indicating an acquittal. After the defendant was discharged, the jury told the judge what happened, but the judge determined that jeopardy had attached and that it was too late to declare a mistrial. The defendant’s lucky break turned tragic, however. Soon after his release he was fatally stabbed in an altercation with his sister’s boyfriend. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has the story here.

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2 comments on “News Roundup

  1. I do not believe any device that supposedly scans the alcohol content of the air in a car would be legal. First, this sounds suspiciously like the nar-test device, which was based upon bogus science.

    Second, and more important, it is not against the law to drive after drinking, providing the other legal requirements are met. Nor is it illegal for a sober driver to transport a drunk passenger. In other words, The device, even if it worked as promised, would be incapable of discriminating between legal and illegal activity. I do not believe (and certainly hope) that a single scientifically questionable measure of possible illegal activity would be held sufficient to establish RS to stop a vehicle.

    • There are two distinct issues here. The first is whether the use of such a device would be an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. As I said in the post, my guess is that a court would say that there is no Fourth Amendment violation in using such a device on the public roads. But I can imagine a contrary argument that it would be a search under Kyllo and that even under the diminished expectation of privacy that applies to vehicles on the roads, it can’t be used without some level of individualized suspicion. The second is whether an alert from such a device would, by itself, provide reasonable suspicion to support a stop. That’s hard to answer without knowing more about the technology, but I agree that the level of suspicion is much weaker in a multiple-occupant scenario. Also, the article notes that countermeasures could be employed by drivers, like keeping the windows open. It will be interesting to see whether this technology is ever commercialized and adopted.

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