News Roundup

There was a steady stream of news about capital punishment this week. The Pope addressed a special joint session of Congress this week, and among many other things, asked the legislature to abolish the death penalty. The full text of the speech is here. Justice Scalia, one of the Supreme Court’s six Catholics, reportedly stated this week that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Court bans the penalty in the future, though he personally believes it to be constitutional. Meanwhile, State Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican from Greensboro, indicated that he believes the death penalty should be eliminated because he doesn’t “trust the government to do it right” and stated that he is starting “conversation[s]” with other Republican legislators on the issue. Finally, Reuters published this long report, the key finding of which is that “[a] review of 2,102 state supreme court rulings on death penalty appeals . . . over the past 15 years found a strong correlation between the results in those cases and the way each state chooses its justices. In the 15 states where high court judges are directly elected, justices rejected the death sentence in 11 percent of appeals, less than half the 26 percent reversal rate in the seven states where justices are appointed.”

In other news:

Fayetteville sexting case resolved. LaToya blogged here about two Fayetteville teens who faced criminal charges as a result of consensual sexting. The matter has been resolved with what sounds like some type of misdemeanor deferred prosecution agreement for the young man. (The young woman had previously accepted a similar deal.) A local story with details is here. The agreement was apparently reached last week, but I missed it.

Untested Fayetteville rape kits destroyed. As WRAL describes here, the Fayetteville Police Department recently acknowledged that, several years ago, it destroyed over 300 untested rape kits in order to “free up space in the . . . evidence room.” Over 1,000 other rape kits remain untested. Chief Harold Medlock is, quite understandably, not happy. But problems with rape kits are not unique to Fayetteville. CNN notes here that Kentucky has over 3,000 untested kits and that there may be over 400,000 nationwide.

More charges against officers, not many convictions. The Wall Street Journal reports here that “[m]ore U.S. police officers have been charged with crimes for deadly on-duty shootings in 2015 than in any year going back a decade. But not a single officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter this year.” Of course, serious cases take time to bring to trial, so the lack of convictions “this year” may not say much about the ultimate disposition of the cases initiated this year.

Bar passage rates plummet. Above the Law has this story, noting that scores on the multistate portion of the bar exam have fallen to their lowest level since 1988. Overall bar passage rates have also declined in many states, including North Carolina. One hypothesis is that a decline in legal job openings has led fewer smart college graduates to choose law school, which has led law schools to admit less qualified and less capable students, who are less likely to pass the bar.

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