My favorite story this week is this report about a proposed ordinance in East Laurinburg. The ordinance “would charge people with indecent exposure if the top of their pants or skirt hangs 3 inches or more below the waistline.” Folks on both sides seems to have put some thought into one-liners about the ordinance, with the legal director of the state ACLU asking “do we want the police to be the fashion police?” and the town’s mayor claiming “I wear baggy pants myself, but I wear a belt with them.” The ACLU claims that similar laws have been struck down on constitutional grounds in other jurisdictions. I don’t know much about the doctrines involved, but the whole thing puts me in mind of a remark my wife’s grandmother made recently about tattoos: “I think they should be illegal. They serve no purpose except to embarrass parents.” I don’t agree with her about tattoos, but I’m not so sure about low-riding pants.
In other news:
1. Former court of appeals judge Joe John will be the interim director of the SBI lab and will lead a review of the lab’s reporting policies, according to the News and Observer. The newspaper also reported this week about some of the individuals involved in preparing and reviewing the agency’s reporting policies.
2. According to this press release, “[t]wo federally-funded MUSC studies on South Carolina’s sex offender registration and notification system and its effect on community safety revealed that prosecutors often pursue non-sexual charges or fail to get convictions for sex crimes since the registry was enacted in the mid-90’s. The studies also found that the current system for convicted sex offenders often did not deter them from committing similar crimes.” One of the studies did, apparently, find that the prospect of registration had a modest deterrent effect on those who were not yet registered sex offenders. I couldn’t quickly find the studies themselves online.
3. Adam Liptak at the New York Times has this interesting piece about supreme court specialists, who now argue more than half the cases before the Court, up from 6% a few decades ago. The article portrays the lawyers as intellectual ambulance-chasers, always hustling for the next case that the Court might review, but at the same time as highly skilled and effective practitioners who represent the best chance for many litigants.
4. Speaking of the Court, it has recently granted certiorati in the case of Camreta v. Greene, a case that held that officers may not “seize and interrogate” a child suspected of being a victim of sexual abuse without a parent’s consent or a warrant — even where the suspected perpetrator is the child’s parent. Because the case involved an interview at the child’s school — a less-than-overwhelming “seizure” — some have read it to require parental consent or a warrant in every case in which police want to interview a child. I’ve have several calls from officers about this case, and they’ll probably be relieved to learn that the Court will review it.
5. Last, a tidbit from Connecticut. Stephen Hayes has been convicted of a brutal home invasion, rape, robbery, and multiple murder near New Haven. (The New York Times’ coverage of the high-profile case is here.) He is facing the death penalty, and his lawyers sought to introduce evidence at the penalty phase that life imprisonment would likely be less expensive than a death sentence. The trial judge just rejected this argument, concluding that “[a]lthough a defendant fighting for his life should be given great latitude in presenting mitigating evidence, the evidence offered here is not legally admissible.” I would expect the same result in North Carolina, since the state supreme court has described cost considerations as “improper for jurors to consider in a capital case.” State v. Polke, 361 N.C. 65 (2006).