News Roundup

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died on Tuesday in Florida at the age of 99 after suffering a stroke.  As the Associated Press reports, Stevens served on the Court for nearly 35 years.  He was nominated to the bench by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010.  In 1976, Stevens joined the plurality opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, holding that Georgia’s death penalty scheme was not unconstitutional and ending the de facto national moratorium on the death penalty that followed Furman v. Georgia in 1972.  In 2002, Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Atkins v. Virginia, holding that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on intellectually disabled offenders.  And in 2008, he wrote a concurring opinion in Baze v. Rees that indicated that he had arrived at the personal belief that the death penalty was unconstitutional in all cases.  Keep reading for more news.

Hemp Headache.  In a series of posts, Phil has been keeping blog readers up to date on the complicated issues involved in marijuana prosecutions following the legalization of hemp products.  WRAL reports that the General Assembly is debating legislative responses to the situation, including a proposal to include smokable hemp within the definition of marijuana.  As Phil has noted, the similarities between hemp flowers – the portion of the plant sold in smokable form – and marijuana flowers has caused law enforcement agencies to say that they are struggling to develop probable cause in marijuana investigations.

ICE Activists.  Another report from WRAL says that in response to threatened raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, members of a group called SiembraNC have been patrolling communities in the Triangle looking for ICE agents.  The report suggests that the volunteers watch for people in “suspicious vehicles” and investigate whether they are ICE agents.  If so, they alert the surrounding community about the ICE presence.

Buncombe County.  WLOS reports that another former Buncombe County official has been indicted on corruption charges.  Former county commissioner Ellen Frost was indicted this week by a federal grand jury on various fraud charges arising from an alleged scheme to use county funds to sponsor equestrian activities in North Carolina and Florida.

Eric Garner.  USA Today reports that the U.S. Justice Department will not bring civil rights violation charges against a New York City police officer who was involved in the 2014 arrest of Eric Garner that resulted in his death.  The department had been investigating whether to bring charges against officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes outside a store in New York.  During the incident Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” – a phrase that has been adopted as a slogan for protests of racial disparities in policing.

El Chapo.  Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the infamous Mexican drug cartel leader better known as El Chapo, was sentenced to life in prison this week by a federal judge in New York City.  Guzmán was convicted of drug, murder, and money laundering charges last year after a lengthy trial.  In addition to the term of imprisonment, Guzmán was ordered to pay a $12.6 billion in forfeiture.  Many expect that he will serve his sentence at the Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado where many other notorious offenders are housed.  Guzmán famously has escaped from prison in Mexico on two separate occasions.

Epstein.  Yesterday a federal judge denied bail for Jeffrey Epstein.  Prosecutors told the judge on Monday that a search of a safe at Epstein’s home revealed substantial amounts of cash, loose diamonds, and an expired foreign passport issued under a fake name listing his country of residence as Saudi Arabia.  Epstein’s attorneys said that he got the passport in the 80’s so that he could present it to kidnappers or terrorists were he to be involved in a hijacking while traveling in the Middle East.

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