News Roundup

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Well, today is Constitution Day. According to 36 U.S.C. § 106, “[t]he civil and educational authorities of States, counties, cities, and towns are urged to make plans for the proper observance of Constitution Day . . . and for the complete instruction of citizens in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens.” The law school here at UNC is hosting a promising-sounding talk about the Supreme Court confirmation process at noon. Anyone know of other events offered by the “civil and educational authorities”?

One person who really, really vigorously exercises his constitutional rights is Jonathan Lee Riches. He’s a federal inmate who, according to this AP article, has filed more than 3,800 lawsuits — sometimes as many as four per day — targeting defendants like Plato, “the celestial body formerly known as the planet Pluto,” and Somali pirates, as well as celebrity targets like football coach Bill Belichick and dog fighter Michael Vick. Apparently nicknamed the “Patrick Ewing of Suing” and “Johnny Sue-nami,” Riches is now a defendant in a civil suit designed to limit his access to the courts.

In other news:

1. The Eleventh Circuit has extended the Supreme Court’s effective assistance of counsel ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky — which my colleague Sejal Zota explored here — to cover faulty advice about whether a conviction carries with it the obligation to register as a sex offender. Sentencing Law and Policy has the basics here. I’m trying to convince Jamie to do a more detailed analysis of the issue. Stay tuned.

2. The New York Times has an interesting story here about false confessions. A University of Virginia law professor has identified more than 40 cases in the last 34 years in which a defendant who had confessed was later exonerated by DNA evidence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a majority of those who confess falsely are either under 18 or mentally disabled.

3. According to the FBI, crime rates fell again last year. With a few more years of declines, we criminal lawyers will be out of work.

4. A very, very interesting development is taking place in Missouri. As reported here, judges are being given data on (1) the cost to taxpayers of various possible sentencing options (e.g., if you sentence this defendant to three years in prison, it will cost X amount, while if you sentence him to five years of probation, it will cost Y amount), and (2) on the defendant’s predicted recidivism under various sentencing options. I wonder if our judges would want the same data, or if they would view it either as common sense or as superfluous. Judges, what do you say?

5. Several interesting law and technology tidbits that have cropped up recently include this story about a mistrial caused by a juror’s use of his iPhone to conduct research during deliberations; this report of the use of Google to research prospective jurors during voir dire (in a nutshell, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that a trial judge can’t tell a lawyer not to do this); and this account of one state’s attempt to jam cell phones illegally possessed by prison inmates.

Finally, I note that the ABA is now receiving nominations for its annual Blawg 100. Just in case you felt like nominating you know, any legal blogs that you might happen to read.

Happy Constitution Day.

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