News Roundup

The biggest criminal law story this week has to be the ongoing controversy over the SBI. Two independent reviewers examined the work of the Forensic Biology Section of the SBI lab — the section responsible for blood testing — and found 230 cases in which problems existed. In some cases, for example, “[l]aboratory test results were overstated or lab notes contradicted the reported results,” while in others, “reports . . . fail to mention . . . one or more negative or inconclusive confirmatory” tests. The review is available here. A News and Observer story summarizing the fallout is here. A former analyst’s defense of his work at the lab is here. Perhaps the most astonishing single sentence in the report, to my mind, is this: “it was indeed the sanctioned practice of some NC SBI Laboratory Analysts to omit the results of certain negative or inconclusive confirmatory tests in final lab reports under certain circumstances, and this practice later became written SBI policy in 1997.”

But the SBI was not the only news story of interest this week. Some others worth noting include:

1. Former Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevich was convicted in federal court of making false statements to the FBI, but his jury hung on 23 the 24 counts against him, including the most serious allegations — those regarding his alleged attempt to sell the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama. The New York Times reports on the case here. The government has vowed to retry the former governor, which is understandable given that the jury was apparently split 11 to 1 for conviction. If so, the jury recommends that the government simplify its case and present it in a more logical sequence, according to this Chicago newspaper report. The complexity of the evidence was compounded by more than 100 pages of jury instructions and a lengthy verdict form, leaving at least one juror feeling as though the group had been told “here’s a manual, go fly the space shuttle.”

2. In other celebrity news, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball’s history, Roger Clemens, has been charged with lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Times has the basics here, while lawyer Robert Becker has this piece at Fox Sports explaining why he predicts “that Roger Clemens will spend more than a year of his life in a federal prison.” It’s a compelling read.

3. The AP has an equally gripping, and far more tragic, story here about a Texas man who recently attended the execution of one of the gang members who raped and killed his teenage daughter and her friend.

4. Several sentencing stories caught my eye this week, including this discussion at Sentencing Law and Policy of an Atlantic article advocating for GPS-enforced “virtual prisons” as an alternative to the traditional kind; this piece about a defendant who asked for a longer sentence than the prosecutor offered; and this article, which begins, “[a] Saudi judge has asked several hospitals in the country whether they could damage a man’s spinal cord [to paralyze him] as punishment after he was convicted of attacking another man with a cleaver and paralyzing him.” Although at least one hospital has refused, there have apparently been several recent cases in which, for example, blindness was inflicted as part of a literal eye-for-an-eye punishment.

5. Finally, I should note that a new chapter of the Defender Manual, focusing on pretrial release, is now available. You can find it here as a free PDF.

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