News Roundup

[Editor’s note: We’re trying a new system for the news roundup. Rather than having a faculty member, usually Jeff, compile the roundup, we’ve asked a staff attorney to take the lead most weeks.]

In the fortnight since the final news roundup of 2015, a group of armed protesters seized a building in a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, President Obama announced new executive actions intended to reduce gun violence, Durham posted the job description for the city’s Chief of Police, and the new Star Wars film became the highest-grossing film in North America.  The news has wandered many a weary foot since auld lang syne, and it’s time to round it up:

Occupy Oregon.  Over the weekend, a “peaceful rally” involving a few hundred “militia and local citizens” parading through Burns Oregon to protest the prosecution and sentencing of two ranchers convicted of arson on federal land escalated into a major national story when a small group of protesters seized the headquarters of the federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge following the parade.  An early report of the events culminating in the occupation is provided by The Oregonian newspaper here.  After seizing the building, the protesters dubbed themselves “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom” and announced various grievances with the federal government mostly involving land policies in certain western states.

The occupation has prompted a media coverage bonanza but, as NPR reports here, has motivated little observable response from federal law enforcement agencies.  While some attribute the lack of law enforcement response to the fact that the occupied refuge is a remote wilderness hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, others see the lack of response to a defiant armed occupation of a federal building as an example of white protesters being treated more favorably than minority protesters would be.

Lucky Numbers.  According to this story from the Pretrial Justice Institute, a North Carolina woman, Marie Holmes, won $88 million playing Powerball in February of last year, and has used a portion of those winnings on four separate occasions to post bond for her boyfriend.  The boyfriend was originally under a $3 million bond, but as a result of additional charges brought after his release subsequently faced, and posted, $6 million and $12 million bonds.

The Pretrial Justice Institute uses the story to argue that utilizing high cash bonds for the purpose of pretrial detention gambles with public safety and that decisions about pretrial release conditions could be enhanced by the use of risk assessment tools.  Broadly, risk assessment tools are meant to provide an objective assessment of the risk to the public that a particular defendant would pose if released.  With this information, the theory goes, dangerous defendants could be detained while others could be released with appropriate conditions.  Jeff has previously blogged about the the use of risk assessments in sentencing, and has noted that it’s a good time to think about the benefits and shortcomings of risk assessments as they become popular tools in the criminal justice system.

Executive Action on Gun Violence.  On Tuesday, President Obama announced a series of executive actions intended to reduce gun violence.  A press release from the Administration explains that the executive actions are designed to improve the background check system, promote effective enforcement of existing gun laws, increase access to mental health care, and encourage research into gun safety technology.  The Washington Post offers a legal analysis of Obama’s executive action here.

Job Opportunity.  If you have at least twenty years of law enforcement experience and are a “transformative and visionary leader” who possesses “outstanding communication, advocacy and strategic thinking skills,” the City of Durham may have a job for you.  The City recently posted the job description for the Chief of Police.  The position description doesn’t shy away from the challenges of the job indicating that “Durham’s violent crime rate was up 15% for 2014 and is on track to be up 16% in 2015.”  Addressing this increased crime rate is identified as a “crucial challenge” for the new Chief.

Don’t take your blaster to school son, leave your blaster at home.  Unless you’ve been living in exile in a swamp hut in the Dagobah System, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen the new Star Wars film – according to the numbers at least.  Star Wars mania has swept the nation and law enforcement agencies have not been spared.

The Philadelphia Police Department took to Twitter to declare that posting movie spoilers should be a crime, and one maverick officer “thwarted” imminent spoilers and fake-arrested some Storm Troopers.  But you know what they say – it’s all fun and games until someone in a Storm Trooper costume takes his blaster to an elementary school and the principal calls the police to report a man with a gun.  Yes, that sort of behavior will get you real-arrested in Lynn, Massachusetts.

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