News Roundup

Attorney General Josh Stein now appears to be highly unlikely to be charged criminally over a campaign ad he ran in the last election cycle. The ad charged that Stein’s opponent in the 2020 election – Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill – “left 1,500 rape kits on a shelf leaving rapists on the streets.” O’Neill complained to the State Board of Elections, contending that the ad was false and violated G.S. 163-274(a)(9), which makes it a misdemeanor to “publish . . . derogatory reports with reference to any candidate . . . knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.” The Board recommended taking no action, but Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asked the SBI to investigate further, and ultimately informed Stein that she was planning to submit the matter to a grand jury. Stein then sued in federal court, asserting inter alia that the statute is unconstitutional and seeking an injunction against Freeman. The district court declined to issue a preliminary injunction, but this week the Fourth Circuit said that it is pretty sure that the statute is unconstitutional and so the district court should reconsider. The main problem with the statute is that it “likely criminalizes at least some truthful speech,” namely, a “derogatory report[]” that is made in “reckless disregard of its truth or falsity” but that turns out to be true. Although the Fourth Circuit did not expressly instruct the district court how to proceed, any path forward for criminal charges now appears to be narrow at best. WRAL has more here. Keep reading for more news.

Why did officers approach Tyre Nichols so aggressively? That’s the question on my mind in light of this Associated Press article. The article focuses on Officer Preston Hemphill, a white officer who was involved in stopping Mr. Nichols but not in the subsequent fatal beating. Apparently, Officer Hemphill “admitted he did not witness the alleged reckless driving that was the justification for pulling over Nichols but still approached his car while brandishing his gun.” His “own body camera showed that from the very beginning of the traffic stop he and two other officers approached Nichols with force that was disproportionate for the alleged offense of reckless driving,” according to records from a disciplinary hearing that preceded his firing.

Raleigh license plate readers up and running. WRAL has this story reporting that “Twenty-five cameras that scan license plates looking for crime suspects have been positioned on roads throughout Raleigh, from crime hotspots to entertainment districts.” According to the Raleigh Police Department, “[i]n the first six months . . . the cameras alerted officers to 116 wanted people, and 41 people were arrested.” Garner and other municipalities have also reported positive results from the cameras.

Spiritual advisors in execution chambers. The Associated Press reports here on the aftermath of Ramirez v. Collier, __ U.S. __ (2022), which ruled that condemned inmates are entitled to have their spiritual advisors present in the execution chamber with them. The story includes comments from two clergy who have been with inmates during executions. Both found the experience meaningful but very difficult.

Man busted for DWI by his own iPhone. Apple Insider has this story about a New Zealand man who was driving while impaired and crashed into a tree at 1:00 a.m. His iPhone had “crash detection” and called the New Zealand equivalent of 911. The man was able to speak to the dispatcher and suggested that there was really nothing to worry about, but police responded anyway and ultimately charged him with impaired driving. If you can’t trust your phone not to rat you out, who can you trust?

Jaywalking. Finally, Mother Jones has this interesting article about the history of jaywalking laws, research suggesting that “policing pedestrian behavior disproportionately affects low-income people and people of color,” and recent campaigns to repeal jaywalking ordinances in many cities. It got me wondering about the existence and status of jaywalking laws here in North Carolina.

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