News Roundup

Call me sentimental, but I kinda miss the days when ACC tournament Friday meant the working world nearly grinding to a halt. These days, it hardly skips a beat. The press of interesting criminal law news certainly hasn’t slowed down. Some recent stories of interest include:

1. The News and Observer reports that two former FBI agents will review the work of the SBI lab, which has been called into question in the aftermath of the Greg Taylor case.

2. As always, the death penalty is in the news. As noted here, Washington has followed Ohio in adopting a one-drug execution protocol, rather than the three-drug method used elsewhere. Ohio made news by preventing an inmate suicide, when the inmate was scheduled for execution the next day. (Hat tip: Sentencing Law and Policy.) And Crime and Consequences suggests that the Republican political ascendancy is bringing with it increased legislative interest in expanding the death penalty.

3. Inmate Victor Martin and the ACLU just settled their lawsuit against the Department of Correction, which had prohibited Martin from writing novels his lawyers describe as “urban fiction.” According to the News and Observer, the state “paid $10,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and overturned 10 writing-related disciplinary infractions against Martin,” and agreed to let inmates write and publish in the future. As an aside, I once represented a fellow who was a big fan of Martin’s work. I checked one of his books out on Amazon; apparently, the book chronicles the adventures of a man whose life “continues to be filled with material possessions and easy sex” but “spirals . . . out of control” requiring him to “keep[] his game face on.”

4. Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor visited Elon’s law school in Greensboro this week. Among other things, she suggested that electing judges is “not a good way to go.”

5. Speaking of the Supreme Court, I stumbled across this fantastic short piece about legal writing, which is intended to teach you how to write like Chief Justice Roberts. Good luck with that. (Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy.)

6. Folks who practice in federal court will want to keep up on Congress’s efforts to reduce the crack/powder cocaine disparity from 100:1 to 20:1. It’s starting to look probable, but given that the Department of Justice recommends eliminating the disparity entirely, this is a pretty modest step. Read about it here, and while you’re in a federal frame of mind, read about the Sentencing Commission’s new report on post-Booker sentencing here. Among other interesting findings, the Commission believes post-Booker variability is increasingly resulting in black males getting longer sentences than white males, and males getting longer sentences than females, even after controlling for relevant variables.

7. Finally, a controversy has arisen over several lawyers in the federal Department of Justice who formerly did pro bono work on behalf of Guantanamo detainees. Contrasting views can be found here (generally, arguing that clients’ views shouldn’t be imputed to their lawyers, and that everyone deserves quality representation), and here (generally, arguing that lawyers have limited pro bono time and nearly unlimited possible pro bono clients, and that a lawyer’s choice of clients says something about the lawyer’s values). It’s an interesting discussion, and one that has obvious overtones relevant to the work of criminal lawyers generally.

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