News Roundup

I’ve had a couple of inquiries about this WRAL story, which begins: “A Charlotte man who stands at his front door naked is upsetting his neighbors, but police say he is not doing anything illegal.”

Granted, the indecent exposure statute, G.S. 14-190.9, requires that the exposure be in a “public place,” while this individual is inside his own home. However, without commenting on the specific facts of this case, I do not think that being inside one’s own home is necessarily a complete bar to being charged with indecent exposure. Cf. State v. Williams, 190 N.C. App. 676 (2008) (unpublished) (affirming an inmate’s conviction of indecent exposure where he exposed himself using “a food slot visible from the outside walkway” because “a reasonable probability existed that members of the general public [present in the jail] . . . might have witnessed defendant expose himself”); State v. King, 268 N.C. 711 (1966) (holding that the defendant’s car was a “public place” when it was parked in a business’s parking lot). Out of state cases, though of course decided under other statutes, also could support a charge under appropriate facts. See, e.g., State v. Blair, 798 N.W.2d 322 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011) (a defendant who was “facing forward in front of a bay window with the blinds partially pulled up while masturbating” was properly convicted of indecent exposure; “[b]eing in one’s home does not insulate a person from criminal liability for indecent exposure”); Wisneski v. State, 921 A.2d 273 (Md. 2007) (ruling that exposure to casual acquaintances in a living room was sufficiently public to constitute indecent exposure and collecting cases).

In other news:

Prosecutor disciplined. As the News and Observer reported here, the State Bar has suspended the law license of Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson, but has stayed the suspension in favor of probation. The matter arose in connection with a rape case in which DNA analysis was performed. Although the lab determined that the DNA sample did not match the defendant, Jackson failed to take prompt notice of the results and the defendant remained in jail unnecessarily for several months. The Bar determined that Jackson was remorseful and cooperative, and Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle stated that she has total confidence in Jackson despite the mistake.

Reversal is the most likely result of a death sentence. Or is it? UNC professor Frank Baumgartner and former student Anna Dietrich wrote this Washington Post piece, which states: “Based on a review of every death sentence in the United States since 1973, the beginning of the modern era of the death penalty, we have found that the most likely outcome [of a death sentence] isn’t being executed or even remaining on death row as an appeal makes its way through the courts. In fact, the most common circumstance is that the death sentence will be overturned.” It’s easy to see why this matters: few death sentences are obtained each year, and if most are reversed, the death penalty starts to look like a fruitless exercise. But over at Crime and Consequences, this response argues that “the picture has changed over time,” with a huge number of reversals in the 1970s and 1980s as the Supreme Court changed the rules for capital cases frequently and made many of those changes applicable retroactively, and far fewer in recent years as the rules have stabilized, retroactivity law has become more limiting, and federal habeas review has been restricted.

Raleigh officer sues Starbucks over hot coffee. WRAL has this story about “[a] Raleigh police officer [who] is suing Starbucks, two employees and a coffee cup maker after suffering third-degree burns and blisters when his coffee spilled into his lap.” The case is reminiscent of the McDonald’s hot coffee case from the 1990s, in which a New Mexico woman won $2.86 million after spilling hot coffee on herself. Starbucks notes that the officer received the coffee for free and contends that the officer should have been more careful.

Two feel-good stories. Finally, two stories I enjoyed this week. First, California has posthumously awarded a law license to a Chinese immigrant who had been denied the right to practice in 1890 because of his race. Justice delayed but perhaps not totally denied. Second, Justice Ginsburg just turned 82. As a birthday gift, she received a fabulous “You Can’t Handle the Ruth” t-shirt. I am not sure exactly how and why Justice Ginsburg has become a hipster celebrity, but it is pretty cool.

8 thoughts on “News Roundup”

  1. In regard to the indecent exposure incident that is occurring in Charlotte, I feel like this issue isn’t really that open to debate. The law is worded carefully, and the real issue here is a lack of proper oversight and training for our magistrates in North Carolina.

    Magistrates often have LESS legal expertise than the police officers who are coming to them asking them questions about charges, or at least that’s been my experience. Sure, some of them are very knowledgeable and they are all out there doing the best they can. But, instances like this case make it seem remarkably clear that the guidelines and training could definitely be improved.

    The issue is simple – this man is exposing himself on purpose to the public. Just because he’s standing in his house doesn’t change that fact. Actually, it’s almost worse because he’s mocking people by doing it in his OPEN doorway, as if daring a challenge since he’s inside his house.

    He should be charged, and the charges should hold up in court. He’s plead guilty to indecent exposure on a previous incident, actually. There is intent here to expose himself to view by the public, and one magistrate’s incorrect interpretation of the law should not sway these charges.

  2. So if I have a sick neighbor (peeping tom type (which I do have)) that makes sport of ‘trespassing, peering between my bushes, cracks in my privacy fence, and slightly open curtains ETC I can be charged for indecent exposure? I know they will refuse to enforce the trespass law, and the multiple complaints of this sick individual, peering between bushes, cracks in privacy fence, and open curtains if they have the chance. I am a criminal for expecting ‘privacy’ on my own property, and in my home? I am not free to walk around in my home in the buff, because some long nosed neighbor might decide to tress pass, invade my privacy, and peer through my screen doors, or windows. I have a suggesting for those complaining. DON’T peer at this persons doors, windows etc. It’s pretty simple. Mind your own business, don’t peek in my windows and doors and you won’t see me running around in the buff.

    • Expectations of privacy within your home are certainly expected and guaranteed under our state statues. But is it privacy you expect should you have an open door and you choose to stand in front of that open door “in the nude”? Using your analogy my 8 year old daughter could be over visiting his daughter and while there, he proceeds to expose himself. Is he still protected? Knowledge and intent accompany the act. I would think he has now committed a Class H Felony. In this case, he fully knew what he was doing. His intent becomes apparent once he repeatedly commits the act.

    • No Jim, that is not what the author, nor the statute is saying. As in the case with the prisoner (State v Williams), whenever you do it in a manner that is “plainly seen”, or there is a probability that it could be plainly seen, there is no bar. If you have your curtains drawn, or your blinds shut and someone comes and has to make an extra effort, no matter how slight, to view inside the home, then you are not in the wrong…That person is! NC General Statute 14-202 makes it a Class 1 Misdemeanor to do so! Trespassing would be an additional charge…Unless I am wrong, and if I am someone please correct me, but this would surely be a defense for the poor hapless homeowner climbing out of the shower!

  3. Your narrative about the Stella Liebeck vs. Albuquerque McDonald’s (McDonald’s Coffee) case is grossly inaccurate. After the jury verdict, Judge Robert H. Scott imposed remittitur and slashed the verdict to $480,000. I don’t remember the exact net payment to Ms. Liebeck after the verdict was slashed and attorney fees and expenses paid. But her net was more like $200k. Which is a damn sight less than $2.86 million.

    You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You are law professors! Is accuracy not important to you? Have you no shame?


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