News Roundup

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Locally, the top story of the week is once again the situation at the SBI lab, which has outsourced some of its DNA analysis to a private lab, and which is without an interim director after retired Judge Gerald Arnold decided not to undertake that task despite previous indications that he would do so. But there’s been plenty of other interesting news, too:

1. Charlotte is ranked number three nationally in cities with the highest percentage of drivers with alcohol-related driving convictions, according to this report. Only San Diego and San Jose rank higher.

2. Speaking of driving, a new study concludes that banning texting while driving, as North Carolina has done, does not reduce the risk of accidents. One possible explanation? People replace texting with other distractions. I believe it, because on my way home last night, I passed a guy who was reading the newspaper behind the wheel.

3. The United States Supreme Court is about to kick off a new Term. Information about some recent criminal cases accepted by the Court is here, while the Court’s announcement that it will, for the first time, make oral argument audio recordings available at the end of each argument week is here. Supreme Court junkies, start your iPods!

4. While we’re on the topic of recording things, several stories appeared this week suggesting that the federal government wants to “wiretap the internet.” (Here’s the New York Times, for example.) Legally speaking, law enforcement can already wiretap, for example, your email account with appropriate process. The stories indicate that there may be a practical problem, though: some service providers encrypt users’ messages in a way that the service providers themselves can’t decrypt, so even if a wiretap order is entered, it can’t be effectuated. Federal law enforcement interests apparently plan to ask Congress to require service providers to “be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order.” Given the distributed architecture of the internet, and because any congressional edict would apply only to United States-based service providers, there is some question about whether such a mandate, if passed, would work.

5. Another thing that some people argue is not working is the death penalty. The recent development on that front is that there’s a national shortage of sodium thipoental, one of the drugs used in most states’ execution “cocktails,” and the only drug used in the single-drug protocols now in effect in Ohio and elsewhere. Texas has a stockpile, of course, but California just called off what would have been its first execution in several years in part because its last dose expired.

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