News Roundup

There have been some bumps in the road in the rollout of eCourts, the new electronic platform the court system is using in a handful of pilot counties for filing and case management. Now WRAL reports that a class action lawsuit has been filed alleging that the system “is keeping people in jail longer than they should be, and led to hundreds of people being arrested for things they did not do.” For example, the plaintiffs contend that “a Wake County woman was arrested multiple times on the same warrant for charges that were dismissed by a judge.” The Administrative Office of the Courts is not a named defendant but stated in the article that it has “not substantiated that any allegations of wrongful arrest or incarceration was caused” by the new system. Keep reading for more news.

Oath Keepers founder sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy. The Associated Press reports here that Stuart Rhodes, Yale Law School graduate and founder of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in connection with the January 6 storming of the United States Capitol. The sentencing judge agreed with the government that a “terrorism enhancement” should apply under the applicable sentencing guidelines. Rhodes argued in court that he was a political prisoner and has said that he plans to appeal.

Los Angeles judge requires zero bail for many defendants. A superior court judge in Los Angeles ruled this week that the bail schedules in use there violate equal protection because they unfairly impact poor defendants. The judge ordered that most nonviolent defendants be released without monetary conditions, as was done in Los Angeles during the height of the COVID pandemic. The Los Angeles Times editorializes in favor of the ruling here, arguing that “studies establish that money bail doesn’t make it any more likely that an accused person will return to court for trial, or any less likely that they will commit new crimes.” Crime and Consequences offers an opposing view here, contending that violent crime spiked under the COVID bail protocols and citing several studies suggesting that defendants released without monetary conditions have higher failure rates than those released under financial conditions.

Supreme Court signal interest in argument that sentences should not be enhanced based on acquitted conduct. Suppose that a defendant is convicted of offense X but acquitted of related offenses Y and Z. In federal court, it is common and permissible for a sentencing judge to consider the conduct underlying offenses Y and Z when determining the proper sentence for offense X. This is controversial, and readers will readily imagine the competing arguments: Defendants assert that it isn’t fair to punish them for conduct of which a jury found them not guilty, while prosecutors respond that courts are free to take account of a wide range of information at sentencing and that a not guilty verdict under a reasonable doubt standard is far from a determination that the defendant didn’t commit the conduct. Over at Sentencing Law and Policy, this post rounds up the status of multiple cert petitions seeking Supreme Court review of the practice. In a nutshell, several Justices have previously expressed concern about the issue and the Court has repeatedly relisted the current petitions, suggesting some interest and/or disagreement within the Court. Stay tuned.

Trump trial set for March 2024. The Associated Press reports here that former President Trump’s New York criminal trial will be held in March 2024, the heart of presidential primary season. Recall that the trial concerns allegations that Trump falsified business records in connection with hush money payments made to an adult film star who claims she had sex with him. A line in the story that caught my eye was that “Trump’s case is proceeding in state court even as his lawyers seek to have it moved to federal court because some of the alleged conduct occurred while he was president.” Removal from state to federal court is of course common in civil cases, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of removal of a criminal case, so I will be interested to learn more about that aspect of the litigation.

Inflation at the prison commissary. Finally, the Marshall Project has this piece exploring price hikes at prison commissaries across the country. The main takeaway is that “incarcerated people across the country are paying more now for staple items such as peanut butter, soap, coffee and toothpaste than they did a year ago,” and that “[p]rice increases for some items are higher in prison than on the outside.” The article isn’t specific to North Carolina and the data set doesn’t appear to be very robust but it is good to be mindful of the impact of inflation on inmates, the overwhelming majority of whom have very limited resources.