News Roundup

There’s been lots of interesting criminal law news in the last week or so.

1. Duke University researchers are all over the death penalty debate. According to this News and Observer story, Duke economist Philip Cook has concluded that North Carolina would save $11 million per year by eliminating the death penalty. Meanwhile, Duke sociologists Kenneth Land and Hui Zheng believe that each execution in Texas results in, on average, one or two homicides being deterred, as explained in this AP article about their work.

2. The News and Observer also reports that Cary software giant SAS has developed software to modernize the process of reviewing criminal records. It’s being tested in Wake County, and the article makes it sound like a quantum leap from the archaic DOS-based system that many of us know, and, um, love.

3. Professor Orin Kerr has an interesting post here about whether thermal imagers have become so widely available that their use no longer amounts to a Fourth Amendment search. (The Supreme Court held that it was a search in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), just nine years ago, but the court’s ruling was based in part on the fact that the technology was not in common use.)

4. The Ninth Circuit decided a significant Taser case recently. The first paragraph of Bryan v. McPherson sums it up: “Officer Brian McPherson deployed his taser against Carl Bryan during a traffic stop for a seatbelt infraction. Bryan filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Officer McPherson appeals the denial of his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. We affirm the district court because, viewing the circumstances in the light most favorable to Bryan, Officer McPherson’s use of the taser was unconstitutionally excessive and a violation of Bryan’s clearly established rights.” Of course, the officer did not use the Taser just because Bryan wasn’t wearing his seat belt. During the stop, Bryan, who was shirtless and crying, was noncompliant, engaged in a “bizarre tantrum,” and began approaching the officer despite instructions not to do so. A critical review of the case, which should be of interest to Taser-equipped officers everywhere, is here.

5. Sentencing Law & Policy reports on United States v. Reeves, a case in which the Second Circuit invalidated a condition of supervised release that required a sex offender, upon entry into a “significant romantic relationship,” to inform his partner of his offense of conviction. The court found the condition to be vague and unreasonable, reasoning in part as follows: “[P]eople of common intelligence (or, for that matter, of high intelligence) would find it impossible to agree on the proper application of a release condition triggered by entry into a ‘significant romantic relationship.’ What makes a relationship ‘romantic,’ let alone ‘significant’ in its romantic depth, can be the subject of endless debate that varies across generations, regions, and genders. For some, it would involve the exchange of gifts such as flowers or chocolates; for others, it would depend on acts of physical intimacy; and for still others, all of these elements could be present yet the relationship, without a promise of exclusivity, would not be ‘significant.’ The history of romance is replete with precisely these blurred lines and misunderstandings. See, e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Thomas Egerton, 1814); When Harry Met Sally (Columbia Pictures 1989); He’s Just Not That Into You (Flower Films 2009).

6. Perhaps of interest only to former Californians like me, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has now proposed a state constitutional amendment to require spending on the university system to at least equal spending on the state’s prison system. (Currently, the prisons get about 40% more funding.) It sets up a showdown with the politically powerful union representing corrections officers. The New York Times article is here.

7. Finally, Slate asks whether, if one conjoined twin commits a crime, both twins may be punished. Short answer for those not willing to click the link: probably not.

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