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.