News Roundup

There was notable criminal law legislation in the General Assembly this week where lawmakers unanimously passed the North Carolina First Step Act and the Second Chance Act.  As the News & Observer reports, some legislators have said that the fact that the bills had unanimous support is a signal that the legislature may take up additional criminal justice reform legislation.  The bills now go to Governor Roy Cooper, who one of the bills’ cosponsors blamed for over-incarceration in the state, for approval.  Keep reading for more on this story and other news.

First Step.  The First Step Act provides judges with discretion to reduce fines and sentences associated with drug trafficking convictions upon making certain findings that generally are applicable in situations where the offense does not involve violence, the defendant does not have an extensive record, and the quantity of controlled substance involved is relatively low.  The bill also allows a three-year window for people to file motions for appropriate relief seeking modifications of sentences already imposed for trafficking offenses.  Regular readers may remember that Jamie blogged about an earlier version of the bill here.

Second Chance.  The Second Chance Act revises North Carolina expunction law, providing an avenue for the expunction of certain misdemeanors and felonies committed when a person was under the age of 18 prior to the enactment of Raise the Age, modifying existing law regarding expunctions of nonviolent misdemeanor and felony convictions, and streamlining the process for expunctions of records in situations where charges have been dismissed or a person has been acquitted.

COVID Bulletin.  Ian Mance, a resource attorney working with the SOG’s Public Defense Education group, recently published a bulletin that analyzes potential mechanisms for securing the release of people in custody in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bulletin is available for free here and provides a full rundown of the relevant law.

Rayshard Brooks.  As the nation continues to grapple with issues of systemic racism and disparate policing in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, another black man was killed by a white police officer in Atlanta, who now has been charged with felony murder.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution has full coverage of the story here.

Last Friday night, former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe and officer Devin Brosnan were attempting to arrest Rayshard Brooks for DWI after he was discovered asleep behind the wheel in a fast food drive through.  A struggle broke out as they were putting Brooks into handcuffs, and Brooks managed to commandeer one officer’s taser and attempted to flee.  As Rolfe chased Brooks, video footage appears to show Brooks pointing the taser back over his shoulder at Rolfe and firing it as he continued to run.  Rolfe then drew his firearm and fatally shot Brooks twice in the back.  Rolfe now has been fired from the police department and charged with murder and Brosnan has been placed on administrative leave.  The killing fueled further protests in Atlanta and elsewhere across the nation, while the charges against Rolfe caused some Atlanta officers to call out sick from work.

California Hangings.  As Time reports, two hangings of black men in California that initially were ruled suicides are being reevaluated by the FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division after the families of the men demanded investigations and said that they were not suicidal.  In late May, Malcolm Harsch was found hanging from a tree near a homeless encampment in Victorville and a few weeks later, in early June, Robert Fuller was found hanging from a tree in a park about 50 miles away in Palmdale.  Each death apparently was ruled a suicide because of a lack of evidence of foul play but federal officials now are taking a closer look at the incidents.

Protest Charges.  The News & Observer reports that a Raleigh man is facing federal charges for allegedly burning two businesses in downtown Raleigh during protests over George Floyd’s death.  Richard Rubalcava was arrested yesterday on two counts of malicious damage by means of fire, with U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon saying that surveillance video shows him setting a fire in a Dollar General DGX store and later setting one in the Budacai restaurant.  Rubalcava already was facing state arson, trespass, and riot charges.

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