News Roundup

Things are going full tilt at the General Assembly. One new bill of interest this week would reduce the per se impairment blood alcohol content from .08 to .05. If the bill passes, this 50-state comparison chart suggests that North Carolina would be the second state, after Utah, to adopt the lower limit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Utah’s adoption of the .05 standard has saved lives and recommends that other states follow suit. Keep reading for more news.

Post-Bruen disarray. The Associated Press reports here that the lower courts are struggling to apply New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022). The story contends that the “decision . . . is upending gun laws across the country, dividing judges and sowing confusion over what firearm restrictions can remain on the books.” It points out that “[c]ourts in recent months have declared unconstitutional federal laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, felony defendants and people who use marijuana. Judges have shot down a federal ban on possessing guns with serial numbers removed and gun restrictions for young adults in Texas and have blocked the enforcement of Delaware’s ban on the possession of homemade ‘ghost guns.’” I wrote a bit about the interpretation of Bruen here and may have more to say about it in the near future.

New ABA report on plea bargaining. The American Bar Association has taken a close look at plea bargaining in this country, and it doesn’t like what it found. This new report argues that plea bargains are too prevalent: they prioritize efficiency over truth-seeking, pressure innocent defendants to admit guilt, harm the integrity of the criminal justice system, and perpetuate racial disparities. The ABA calls for “[a] vibrant and active docket of criminal trials” and other changes to remedy the situation.

Celebrity defendants get sentenced again. Harvey Weinstein was sentenced in California this week to 16 years in prison for raping an actor and model. The sentence will run consecutive to a 23-year sentence Weinstein is already serving for sex crimes in New York. During the sentencing hearing, Weinstein maintained his innocence, claiming that the victim’s story was made up and arguing that she is “an actress. She can turn the tears on.” More details are available here. Also this week, R. Kelly was sentenced in Chicago to 20 years in prison for sex crimes against underage girls – but virtually the entire sentence will run concurrent to a 30-year New York sentence he is already serving for sex trafficking. The Associated Press has more here.

Alabama basketball star allegedly provides murder weapon to teammate, keeps hooping. North Carolina is well known for its love of college basketball so I thought I’d flag a basketball-related story. The University of Alabama, not content with beating everyone in football, suddenly has a terrific men’s basketball team. They are 24-4 and ranked second in the latest national poll. Their success is due in no small part to diaper dandy Brandon Miller, a freshman forward who is averaging 19.5 points and 8 rebounds per game. But it is hard to celebrate the team’s success given that another player, Darius Miles, has been charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a young woman last month. (Miles is technically a former player, as he has since been dismissed from the team.) According to media reports, Miles owned a gun, which he had left in Miller’s car. Just before the shooting, Miles asked Miller to bring him the gun, which Miller did. In other words, Alabama’s star freshman allegedly provided a teammate with a murder weapon shortly before the crime. There seems to be no evidence at this point that Miller knew what Miles was planning to do with the gun, and the authorities have said that they don’t currently plan to charge Miller. Miller hasn’t missed a start, which some view as appropriate but others think is unseemly given his apparent proximity to an untimely death. The victim’s family has expressed the opinion that it is “unimaginable” that Miller is playing basketball under the circumstances.