News Roundup

Queen Elizabeth II died this week. When she took the throne, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Harry Truman was the President of the United States. She was truly an institution. And, to draw at least a slight connection to criminal law, she was an institution that could not be prosecuted. As The Guardian explains here, British law provides near-total immunity to the monarch. King Charles now enjoys that protection. Read on for more news.

South Carolina judge rules that death by firing squad and the electric chair violate the state constitution. The USA Today reports here that a “South Carolina judge has found that the firing squad and electric chair are prohibited by the state’s constitution, a decision sure to be swiftly appealed as the state struggles to implement its new execution protocols.” Apparently, South Carolina recently amended its law to allow condemned inmates to choose among several methods of execution, with the electric chair as the default if an inmate declines to make a choice. The recent ruling casts the viability of the entire scheme into question, but further developments are likely.

Steve Bannon indicted in New York. The New York Times has the basics here: the former adviser to President Trump has been charged by state prosecutors in New York with fraud and money laundering. The focus of the case concerns Bannon’s alleged solicitation of donations to We Build the Wall Inc., an organization that purported to be raising money to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Prosecutors contend that Bannon misappropriated $1 million in donations for himself, and funneled additional cash to Brian Kolfage, the president of the organization, who had pledged not to take a salary. It seems that Kolfage has pled guilty and is cooperating. The charges are similar to federal charges previously levied against Bannon but terminated when he was pardoned by then-President Trump. The pardon does not extend to state charges. Bannon has entered a not guilty plea.

Charges against pregnant women who use drugs, then miscarry. The Marshall Project and its partners have a new story here, finding that “[m]ore than 50 women have been prosecuted for child neglect or manslaughter in the United States since 1999 because they tested positive for drug use after a miscarriage or stillbirth.” The states with the most prosecutions have been Alabama, Oklahoma and South Carolina. No prosecutions were noted in North Carolina, perhaps in part because of G.S. 14-23.7(3), which prohibits prosecutions under Article 6A of Chapter 14 based on “[a]cts committed by a pregnant woman with respect to her own unborn child, including, but not limited to, acts which result in miscarriage or stillbirth.”

Investigation into voter fraud prosecutions. The New York Times looked into 400 voter fraud cases brought nationwide over the past five years. The results are detailed here, but in a nutshell, “[a]ctual prosecutions are blue-moon events, and often netted people who didn’t realize they were breaking the law.” The most common types of cases involve filling out an absentee ballot to vote in a relative’s name, voting in two states, and voting by felons or noncitizens. The Times concluded that affluent defendants fared better than poorer ones facing similar charges.

Fast and Furious fans’ foolishness is frustrating. I’ll admit that I enjoy the Fast and Furious franchise. I like cars, and whoever cast Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto deserves some kind of casting lifetime achievement award. But it seems that some of my fellow fans have been taking their enthusiasm too far, doing donuts, drifting, and street racing outside Bob’s Market, the Los Angeles convenience store that was converted into Toretto’s garage for the original movie. CNN has the story here. The article draws connections to the broader phenomenon of “street takeovers” and underground street racing that is popular – and sometimes fatal – in Southern California and elsewhere. Stay safe, readers! Leave the street racing to the professionals.