News Roundup

A bill was introduced at the General Assembly this week to prohibit certain pet leasing agreements. H226 would make it a class 2 misdemeanor to lease or sell a cat or dog pursuant to an agreement in which the animal is subject to repossession in the case of a missed payment. I had not heard of such agreements, but according to this Business Insider article, they are legal in 42 states and are not uncommon. Typically they are used when a person wants to buy a pet but can’t pay the entire amount up front and so enters into a lease-to-own or installment purchase agreement that carries the risk of repossession. A bill to address pet leasing was previously introduced in 2021, but that bill (H849) did not advance out of committee. Keep reading for more news.

Two more defendants charged in connection with State Auditor’s crash. According to WRAL, two men have been charged with obstruction of justice and other offenses in connection with State Auditor Beth Wood’s recent car crash. One was allegedly a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the crash. They are due to appear in court next month. There has been a great deal of speculation about whether Wood was drinking prior to the crash, and if these new defendants have any information about that, they may now have an additional incentive to share it.

TikTok driving Hyundai/Kia thefts? Since 2021 or 2022, many regions of the country have seen a massive spike in the theft of Hyundai and Kia vehicles. This story, supported by some persuasive data visualizations, suggests that the surge may be due in part to “videos by a group dubbed the ‘Kia Boys’ demonstrating how to start some Kias and Hyundais using a USB charger [that] went viral on TikTok.” In Milwaukee, Wisconsin Hyundai and Kia vehicles went from being 6% of stolen vehicles to 71% in a matter of months. The trend has made it to North Carolina, where WRAL reports that “almost 50% of cars stolen since the beginning of 2023 in the Pineville area have been Hyundais and Kias,” generally older models with turn-key ignitions rather than newer push-to-start vehicles. If you have a Hyundai or a Kia, you may need one of those steering-wheel “club” anti-theft devices that we all had back in the 1990s. Those of us who were driving back in the 1990s, anyway.

60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. Last week marked the 60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the landmark decision establishing the constitutional right to counsel for indigent defendants. This NPR story takes a look at the state of Gideon today and finds that the system of indigent defense is underfunded and overburdened.

CCJ report on long sentences. The Council on Criminal Justice just released a new report on long sentences, which it defined to include those longer than 10 years. The report is entitled How Long Is Long Enough? and it argues that while sometimes long sentences are appropriate and justified, other times long sentences keep people in prison longer than needed to serve public safety. The co-chairs of the committee that worked on the report are former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former United States Representative Trey Gowdy. Both are former federal prosecutors. You can read a message from the co-chairs as well as the recommendations of the report here. A skeptical take on some of the recommendations is here.

Constitutional crisis over the death penalty in Arizona averted, for now. This Arizona article details the case of Aaron Guntches, an Arizona man sentenced to death after murdering his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. A warrant has been issued for his execution, but Governor Katie Hobbs has declined to carry it out. She formed a committee to review the functioning of the death penalty in Arizona after problems arose in previous executions. She does not want to proceed until the work of the committee is done, and her administration says that it currently lacks staff with the training and experience to manage an execution in any event. The victim’s sister sought to seek to compel the Governor to carry out the execution, arguing that doing so is her responsibility as the head of the executive branch of state government. This raised the prospect of the courts ordering the Governor to proceed and the Governor saying something similar to what President Andrew Jackson allegedly said so many years ago about the Supreme Court of the United States: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” The potential standoff was defused somewhat when the state supreme court ruled that the execution warrant authorized, but did not require, the Governor to execute Guntches, and stated that some of the constitutional questions implicated in the matter were not properly before it. Whether this is the end of the story or just the end of a chapter remains to be seen.