News Roundup

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There was a lot of action at the United States Supreme Court this week. The new Term opened with Heien v. North Carolina, the burned-out brake light case where the legal issue is whether a traffic stop may be based on an officer’s reasonable mistake of law. The oral argument transcript is here, and a good recap of the issues on SCOTUSBlog is here. For those reading the tea leaves, SCOTUSBlog predicts that the Court will affirm the state supreme court and rule that a stop may be based on an officer’s reasonable mistake of law. The Court also heard a case about prison beard policies and religious rights, and granted certiorari on a case that asks whether an officer may extend a lawful traffic stop to ask a few off-topic questions or have a drug dog sniff the vehicle. I may post separately on the latter case. In other news:

Gun rights group challenges State Fair policy. As I noted in a previous post, the Commissioner of Agriculture plans to ban concealed carry at the State Fair this year. It’s not clear that the Commissioner has the legal authority to do so, and Grass Roots North Carolina filed suit yesterday, seeking a preliminary injunction allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry at the Fair. WRAL has the story here.

Welty takes to the airwaves to explain proposed state constitutional amendment. I am pretty sure that all regular readers of this blog have taken the time to review and digest the lengthy report that Komal Patel and I prepared about the proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow bench trials in felony cases. Right? OK, maybe not everyone read it. Did anyone read it? In any event, folks looking for a breezier discussion can now hear a 10-minute WUNC radio segment with me here. One listener already emailed me to tell me that I have a great face for radio.

The Economist thinks prosecutors have too much power. The eminent British news magazine argues here that “harsh, mandatory-minimum sentencing rules” have given prosecutors overwhelming leverage in plea negotiations, making prosecutors the “kings of the courtroom.” Agree or disagree, it’s worth a look.

Removing tattoos = less recidivism? There’s some intuitive appeal to the idea that an ex-con with a neck tattoo is going to have a harder time getting a job than one with a more conventional appearance. This post over at Sentencing Law & Policy discusses some recent empirical research that suggests that inmates with visible tattoos get locked back up more quickly than others. How about some dermatologists get together and offer pro bono visible tattoo removal for inmates who want it? Or perhaps the state could pay for the service on the theory that it will save prison costs down the road.

Siri is a terrible passenger. New research suggests that using Siri is more distracting to drivers than almost anything else you can do behind the wheel. I can barely use Siri when I’m not driving, so I am unsurprised.

Do not complain about the cold onion rings to this guy. Finally, WRAL has this story about a New Mexico case in which a Burger King customer allegedly was upset about receiving cold onion rings with his order. Purportedly, “when [the customer] asked for a refund, [the manager] lunged at him with a stun gun and switchblade.” Whatever happened to the customer is always right?

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5 comments on “News Roundup

  1. If such a “cold onion rings” incident were to occur at the NC State Fair, shouldn’t the customer be allowed to blow away the vendor?

    • Certainly! Someone lunges at me with a switchblade at the NC State Fair, or a Burger King is likely to discover a hole, or two, they didn’t have before that moment! N.C.G.S. 14-51.4(a) and common law allow that response on my part. Besides, “switchblades” are illegal in North Carolina, but guns are not.

  2. It would seem to me that defendants with visible tattoos would be more identifiable than a perpetrator without tattoos. Description of clothing is helpful, but clothing can be changed rather quickly. A tattoo makes it easier to identify a perpetrator. I’ve had a number of cases where there was video and I could not see the face well, but could see tattoos in places or where a witness was not able to describe features well but could describe a tattoo in detail. I’ve even had several cases where the defendant had his own name tattooed visibly on his body. I am not discounting the job/tattoo theory, but there may be other factors contributing to the statistic.

  3. If the Court upholds the stop, then for the officer, ignorance of the law *is* an excuse. Seems to me we will be able to argue that same principle on behalf of defendants, as a matter of due process and equal protection. That could be useful.

  4. Any thoughts/comments on the absence of opinions last Friday and the fact that there will be no opinions until mid-December, coincidentally (?) after the November elections?

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