News Roundup

The indictment of former President Trump continues to dominate the news. Since Shea’s roundup last week noting the federal charges, the indictment was unsealed. It reveals that Trump faces 37 felonies. Most of the charges (31 counts) relate to Trump’s alleged improper storage and retention of national defense information. The indictment also charges conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding and concealing documents from the grand jury and from investigators, and making false statements to investigators. The charging document is a so-called “speaking” indictment, laying out much more specific detail about the circumstances surrounding the charges than the more common bare-bones indictments describing only the commission of the elements of the offense. You can read the indictment here or here. Judge Aileen Cannon, who presided over earlier litigation regarding the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, has been assigned to the case. The former President has pled not guilty. Read on for more criminal law news.

3rd Circuit Holds Felon in Possession Ban Unconstitutional . . . At least as applied to the plaintiff in the case. Mr. Range was convicted in 1995 of making false statements to obtain food stamps in Pennsylvania state court. The offense is actually a misdemeanor under state law, but federal law treats any offense punishable by more than a year in prison as a felony for purposes of the federal firearm disqualification. See 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Mr. Range’s conviction was punishable by up to five years imprisonment, triggering the federal disqualification. He sued, seeking declaratory judgment that application of the disqualification in this context violated his Second Amendment rights, as well as an injunction to prohibit enforcement of it against him. He ultimately prevailed before the en banc court of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Whether the reasoning of the opinion is adopted by other circuits (and to what extent) and whether the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the matter remain open questions. Stay tuned on that front.

Unabomber Dead. Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” was found dead in his cell at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, last Saturday. He was 81. He was moved to the facility in 2021, apparently as the result of a cancer diagnosis. Media outlets report that Kaczynski died by suicide. He terrorized the country with seemingly random bomb attacks from 1978 to 1995, killing three people and wounding another 23, before his apprehension.

COVID Relief Fraud. The Associated Press reports that more than $280 billion of government money intended as COVID relief funds was stolen and that another $123 billion more was improperly spent. In total, those amounts represent 10% of the total government funds spent in response to the pandemic. The losses are expected to grow as investigations proceed. According to the report, this represents “the greatest grift in U.S. history.”

Big Brother is Watching (for a Fee). Government agencies routinely circumvent Fourth Amendment data privacy protections by purchasing user data from private brokers, according to this Forbes article. A recently declassified report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that numerous federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have contracts with data brokers who provide the agencies with location data and user identities from phones, computers, and cars. This data is not only sold to U.S. government agencies but may be purchased by anyone, including foreign governments and members of the public. The article notes the potential for misuse of this “commercially available information” and suggests that existing data privacy regulations may be insufficient.

Covenant Eyes is Also Watching. Speaking of surveillance, Wired recently reported on the use of the digital surveillance application “Covenant Eyes” as a part of pretrial release or probation supervision. While the app was designed as an anti-pornography tool and not for use in criminal proceedings, the report found it had been used to monitor criminal defendants or supervisees in at least five states. The app is installed on all devices that the person being monitored can access and blocks any content the software deems inappropriate. It also records “at least one screenshot a minute,” and saves any suspicious images or website requests for further review. According to the report, the software is far from perfect, and it is unclear how privileged information like attorney/client or doctor/patient communication is protected (putting aside any potential constitutional concerns).

New Podcast Episode. Want even more criminal law news and analysis? Check out the most recent episode of the N.C. Criminal Debrief podcast. You can find it on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, or here.