News Roundup

Criminal law news is seldom cheery. That said, I am particularly saddened to begin the first news roundup of 2024 with a story of a school shooting.

School was set to resume yesterday in Perry, Iowa, following the winter break. But before the opening bell rang at Perry High School on Thursday morning, authorities say 17-year-old Dylan Butler, a student at the school, opened fire, killing a sixth-grader and wounding five others. Law enforcement officials reported that Butler was armed with a pump-action shotgun and a small handgun and that he was found dead inside the school with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Associated Press reports that the shooting “occurred in the backdrop of Iowa’s looming first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.” GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy had a campaign event that was scheduled to occur yesterday morning less than two miles away from Perry High School. He canceled the event to hold a prayer and discussion with area residents.

Continue reading for more criminal law news.

Speaking of the 2024 presidential election . . .  Criminal law news and the 2024 presidential election could certainly comprise their own Venn diagram, with former president Donald Trump squarely situated in the overlap.

Last month, the Colorado Supreme Court held that Trump could not appear on that state’s primary ballot because he had engaged in an insurrection before and during the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Maine’s secretary of state announced last week that Trump would be barred from that state’s primary ballot too. Both decisions are on hold while Trump appeals. On Wednesday, Trump filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking its review of the Colorado court’s determination. The Washington Post has the story, along with a link to the petition for certiorari review.

The Post notes that the Colorado case is but one of several significant questions before the Supreme Court this term that could dramatically impact the election. In December, the Court granted review in Fischer v. United States to address whether the government may prosecute January 6 riot defendants under a federal law that makes it a crime to obstruct or impede an official proceeding. This crime is among those with which Trump is currently charged in federal court. In addition, Trump’s claim that presidential immunity bars criminal prosecution of him for actions he took as president is expected to reach the Court later this year.

Closer to home, a federal magistrate judge recommends dismissal of action challenging NC voter fraud law. On Tuesday, United States Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina Joe Webster issued an order recommending denial of civil rights attorneys’ request to invalidate G.S. 163-275(5), which makes it a Class I felony for a felon whose citizenship rights have not been restored to vote. The law, which the plaintiffs had labeled a strict liability statute, was amended last legislative session to incorporate a requirement that the violator know his or her citizenship rights have not been restored. See S.L. 2023-140, § 38 (effective January 1, 2024). Webster concluded that the amendments robbed the plaintiffs of legal standing as the change “substantially diminished any prospective voter’s perceived threat of prosecution and any resulting confusion.” The plaintiffs may lodge an objection to the recommendation with U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, who will enter a final ruling on the matter. The full story from the Associated Press is here.

A lawsuit challenges NC laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law. North Carolina Justice for All Project (JFAP) and the national Institute for Justice have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state’s unauthorized practice of law statutes on First Amendment grounds. The News & Observer reports that JFAP has sought relaxation of these laws for several years, favoring a limited license system that would allow paralegals and others to assist with certain legal issues.

Speaking of the practice of law, do you know what district you are in? The 2023 Appropriations act renumbered superior and district court districts to match prosecutorial districts (which, in turn, match judicial district bar numbers). The changes were effective January 1, 2024. The Administrative Office of the Courts has created up-to-date judicial district maps, available here. Print outs of these maps currently occupy pride of place on my desk.

Finally, assaulting a judge is unlikely to keep you out of prison. Deobra Delon Redden pleaded for leniency on Wednesday when he appeared before Clark County District Court Judge Mary Kay Holthus for sentencing for assaulting a person with a baseball bat, explaining that he was a person who never stops trying to do the right thing, that he was not rebellious, and that he did not think he should be sent to prison. When Judge Holthus indicated that she did in fact plan to impose a sentence of imprisonment, Redden yelled expletives and charged forward, hurtling himself over the defense table and the judge’s bench, where he landed on top of the judge and set off a brawl with officials. The Associated Press has the story here, including video from the courtroom capturing the violent assault and its chaotic aftermath. Courthouse officials said Holthus was injured but was not hospitalized. One courtroom marshal was hospitalized for treatment of a cut to his forehead and a dislocated shoulder.

Redden was subsequently jailed and now faces thirteen new charges.

That rounds out the selected news of the week. I send you my best wishes for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling new year.