News Roundup

The trial of the week this week is in Charlotte, where former CMPD officer Randall Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of former college football player Jonathan Ferrell. The case has attracted some national attention, as evidenced by the CNN coverage here, perhaps in part because Kerrick is white and Ferrell was black. The parties disagree about the extent of the danger posed by Ferrell when he ran towards, and made contact with, Kerrick.

In other news:

UNC law professor on vulnerable defendants. Professor Tamar Birckhead, along with attorney Katie Rose Guest Pryal, wrote this introduction to a symposium about how vulnerable defendants are treated in the criminal justice system. It explores how juveniles, the mentally ill, the homeless, immigrants, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups are treated, and it asks whether reforms are in order.

“Revenge porn” bill advances. The News and Observer reports here that a bill that would make “revenge porn” a felony continues to move through the General Assembly, now with an additional provision designed to address individuals who, while on private property, expose themselves to members of the public.

Federal court strikes down “ag gag” law. A federal judge has ruled that “an Idaho law making it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities violates the right to free speech.” North Carolina recently enacted a bill that seems likewise to have been motivated by undercover operations at large animal farming operations. S.L. 2015-50 creates a civil cause of action for employers against employees who surreptitiously videotape the employment environment. Whether it may also be vulnerable to a legal challenge remains to be seen.

Risk assessments and sentencing. This piece by the Marshall Project attracted considerable attention this week. The piece is about the use of risk assessments in sentencing, and it begins by asking provocatively whether judges should “base criminal sentences not only on what crimes people have been convicted of, but also on whether they are deemed likely to commit additional crimes.” But is this really a novel question? Incapacitation has long been recognized as a purpose of punishment, and one could view Structured Sentencing as a very simplistic risk assessment tool: a higher prior record level means a greater risk of recidivism. Further, Jamie Markham has written elsewhere about the use of risk assessments for sex offenders, probationers, and in other contexts. Still, with risk assessments proliferating, it is a good time to think about their benefits and shortcomings.

Prosecutors, don’t do this. Above the Law reports here about a picture of a Pennsylvania prosecutor that cropped up on Facebook recently. She’s holding a gun, alongside an officer also holding a gun, and the picture is captioned “you should take the plea.” Hey, she’s a young lawyer, she didn’t post the picture on her own account, and it may not be the biggest deal in the world. But I’m going to go ahead and say that prosecutors would be best served by avoiding even the suggestion of violence or coercion against a defendant in connection with plea negotiations.

3 thoughts on “News Roundup”

  1. In regard to the Kerrick case I think the most sensational thing to me, as a law enforcement officer, was just how quickly he was charged by CMPD. Typically the SBI conducts an investigation, the D.A. gets it, then a decision is made. In this case in less than a day he was arrested. And, it isn’t a clear-cut case like the Charleston shooting – the video clearly shows the deceased walking calmly, then, for some unknown reason, he begins to charge at the officer. The warrant for Kerrick’s arrest even used the language “charge,” I believe, which sort of indicates a certain level of aggression on the part of the deceased.
    My personal belief is that he was charged for the simple fact that he used so many rounds on the deceased. Had he shot less, I don’t think CMPD would have charged him. But, the AMOUNT of ammo used doesn’t change a justified use of force to unjustified, unless the man was lying in the ditch bleeding out and and the police kept shooting.
    By the accounts of the other officers, who I believe are not white, not sure of their races, the deceased in this instance was ON TOP OF Kerrick in the ditch and continuing to try and crawl up Kerrick’s body as he continued to shoot. Sounds pretty clear cut.
    Another officer also deployed a taser on scene according to the initial reports, but that was ineffective. A taser is a “less-lethal” option police utilize to avoid lethal force situations, but when a taser is not effective the level of force goes up as the potential for life-threatening harm goes up. Anyone who believes a football player as large as this deceased posed no life-threatening harm to the officer clearly hasn’t watched MMA or boxing, because if you’re big enough you don’t need weapons – you ARE the weapon.

    Greensboro had a similar shooting incident a few years ago where a man charged an officer and was tased to no effect, and actually succeeded in knocking the officer to the ground before another officer arrived on scene and shot him. The SBI and DA all agreed this was a justified shooting because of the fact that this suspect was able to incapacitate an officer with his bare hands, and was likely to continue assaulting that officer or another officer if he wasn’t stopped, and the taser had not been effective.

    The Kerrick case seems almost identical, except that rather than wait until he was rendered defenseless and relying on his assist officers, Kerrick defended himself.

  2. The Charlotte case involves something like 12 shots at close range by the police at an unarmed man, killing the unarmed man. The video available online showed that the deceased did not run/charge until the police assaulted him by pointing a weapon or weapons at him (a taser weapon at least, as evidenced in the video by the taser lights on the deceased’s chest). The deceased had apparently wrecked his car and was seeking assistance, not committing a crime. At least on the surface it is obvious that the officer was rightfully charged with a crime.


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