News Roundup

Several stories of interest to readers of this blog have appeared over the last several days.  First, the Winston-Salem Journal, in an editorial available here, is asking the General Assembly to take a close look at the death penalty, and to impose a moratorium while it does so.  Of course, as the editorial notes, we already have a de facto moratorium. Even after the state supreme court’s recent decision, available here, holding that the North Carolina Medical Board can’t discipline physicians who participate in executions, there is still pending litigation over the state’s execution protocol and whether it was properly adopted by the Council of State.

Second, there has apparently been an explosion in the number of cell phones in prison.  A story available here asserts that literally thousands of cell phones were confiscated in California’s prison system last year, and addresses possible solutions, including (1) stiffer penalties for those who use the phones, and (2) jamming cell phone signals within prisons.  The issue apparently exists here in North Carolina, too, since S167, available here, would make it a crime to provide a prison inmate with a cell phone.  One question I have about this whole issue is to what extent inmates use cell phones to avoid having their phone calls monitored, and to what extent they use them to avoid the incredibly high charges associated with prison pay phones.  (An interesting story on the pricing issue is here — but I should add that my recollection from my time in private practice is that calls in North Carolina are significantly more expensive than the California calls described in the story.)

Third, a New York Times story, here, will be of interest to those concerned about forensic science.  The gist of the article is that scientists are hard at work evaluating some of the techniques — such as fingerprint analysis — that have long been used but without much scientific validation.  The article refers to a National Academy of Sciences report, about which I previously blogged here.  Hopefully some of this new research will improve the reliability of forensic techniques used in criminal cases.

Finally, a Wisconsin court recently addressed a topic of particular interest to me, holding that the police may install a GPS tracking device on a vehicle and monitor it without committing a Fourth Amendment search, i.e., without a warrant or any level of individualized suspicion.  Story here.  This is consistent with what most other courts have done — see my paper on the use of GPS tracking devices, available here as a free download — though we are still awaiting the first North Carolina appellate case on point.  Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “News Roundup”

  1. A client in an NC jail recently told me that some inmates had obtained a cell phone and used the batteries from it to light cigarettes (which are banned at the facility). I had always assumed that inmates wanted phones to make calls.
    I can understand the rationale for monitoring inmate calls (most are recorded, not actively monitored) to detect escape attempts or prevent criminal acts from jail. However, it is hard for me to believe that prison security is seriously threatened by inmates being able to use cell phones.

  2. You are correct about the price of making calls from jail or prison in NC. It is extremely expensive, and I have no idea why it costs so much more to make a call using Paytell than it does to make a normal collect call. I’ve heard rumors that the sheriff’s office or DOC gets a percentage of the money but I’ve never seen anything to confirm that. Cell phones are definitely not unheard of in DOC. I’ve always wondered how the inmates get them. One would hope that if the costs of using the phones were more reasonable, cell phone use would decline among inmates.


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