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 State v. Williams, 190 N.C. App. 676 (2008) (unpublished) (affirming an inmate’s conviction of indecent exposure where he exposed himself using “a food slot visible from the outside walkway” because “a reasonable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.

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