News Roundup

There’s so much going on around the state that this edition of the news roundup features only North Carolina news. First, the Administrative Office of the Courts has a new director. Judge John Smith, who has led the agency for several years, is stepping down. District Court Judge Marion Warren, from the southeastern part of the state, has been appointed as interim director.

In other news:

Legislature in full swing. Among many other bills bouncing around the General Assembly, check out House Bill 32, already through the House and on to the Senate, which would amend habitual DWI to require just two, rather than three, prior DWIs within 10 years. And take a look at two proposals regarding waivers of the right to a jury trial: House Bill 115 (proposing another constitutional amendment to add a requirement of prosecutorial consent), and House Bill 215 (which would add timing requirements and clarify that waivers include sentencing factors). Also of note is House Bill 173, an omnibus criminal law bill that would amend the death penalty statutes in light of Hall v. Florida (the recent Supreme Court case on intellectual disability), make sex offender registration for sexual battery discretionary, and ameliorate certain requirements concerning the retention of biological evidence, among other things. Finally, House Bill 193 would prohibit “discriminatory profiling” as defined in the bill.

Defenders respond to Chief Justice’s speech. Two prominent criminal defense attorneys argue in this letter to the News and Observer that while the Chief Justice made some good points about court funding in his address to the legislature, he “ignore[d] a group of stakeholders who suffer as much if not more than any other as a result of the underfunding: the indigent accused, the wrongly convicted and the public defenders and appointed lawyers who represent them.”

Durham man who killed his four-year-old son acquitted based on sleepwalking defense. WRAL has the basic story here, and a follow-up based on a juror interview here. It isn’t completely clear from the reports, but it sounds like the defendant didn’t rely on the affirmative defense of automatism, about which I wrote here, and instead simply argued that the elements of premeditation, deliberation, and malice were absent. A sad, unusual, and interesting case.

Magistrates’ pay lawsuit moves forward. The News and Observer reports here that “[a] Superior Court judge has agreed that dozens of North Carolina magistrates can move forward with a class-action lawsuit that contends a state pay freeze since 2009 constitutes a contractual breach.” I believe that the issue concerns the suspension of the step pay increases to which magistrates are entitled for every two years of service under G.S. 7A-171.1.

Bar Journal highlights School of Government work. The current issue of the North Carolina State Bar Journal has a nice article about our work in using technology to disseminate legal information. This blog is mentioned, as is the ASSET app.

Courts Commission recommendations. The Courts Commission has submitted its report to the General Assembly. The report is here; its recommendations include raising the retirement age for judges to 75, requiring five years’ experience to be eligible to become a judge, providing raises for Crime Lab employees and appointed lawyers, and implementing additional procedural rules for waiver of jury trial.

U.S. News Law School rankings are out. Here they are. How’d the North Carolina schools do? Duke is up a few spots, and is now tied for number 8. UNC is tied for number 34. Wake is down 16 spots to number 47. Campbell, number 121 last year, is now in the “rank not published” category for schools not in the top 150. So are NC Central, Elon, and Charlotte. (Charlotte is also the subject of a critical article in the Bar Journal issue mentioned above.)

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