News Roundup

This week Governor Cooper signed an executive order to improve reentry services throughout the state. The order aims to enhance coordination between agencies and increase access to post-release employment opportunities and programs such as work release. With the announcement of the order, North Carolina became the third state (joining Alabama and Missouri) to sign on to Reentry 2030, a national initiative with ambitious goals. The goals include increasing the number of high school and post-secondary credentials earned by incarcerated people by 75%, increasing the number of post-secondary degrees that are available in prisons by 25%, reducing the number of incarcerated people being released homeless by 50%, and allowing every person who is eligible to apply for Medicaid before release. The executive order also calls for more local reentry councils.

Read on for more criminal law news.

Alec Baldwin back in criminal justice headlines. Actor Alec Baldwin last appeared on this blog in April 2023, but he is back in the news in recent weeks as special prosecutors in Santa Fe have brought an involuntary manslaughter charge against him for the second time. The indictment stems from a fatal shooting on a New Mexico movie set in 2021. Baldwin was previously indicted exactly one year before this indictment. Prosecutors dismissed the first charge last April, believing that the gun may have malfunctioned, but further forensic analysis caused them to change their minds and conclude that the trigger must have been pulled.

Omnibus D.C. crime bill up for vote in February. District of Columbia councilmembers are weighing various issues presented by a “hefty” 90-page crime bill scheduled for a vote this month. The bill would increase penalties for some gun offenses and lower the threshold for felony retail theft from $1,000 to $500. It would also give police the power to create “drug-free zones,” where it would be illegal to gather for drug-related activity. The bill also proposes several other law changes related to domestic violence, pretrial detention, DNA gathering, and GPS data.

One interesting question on the table is whether officers should be permitted to watch their bodycam footage prior to writing a report (currently, they are not allowed to do so). Proponents argue that allowing officers to review bodycam prior to making a written report results in more complete and accurate narratives, leading to an improved truth-seeking process. Others argue that allowing officers to review bodycam might cause them to change their testimony to make it fit with the video, whether they do so purposely or unconsciously.

N.Y.C. passes crime bill ending solitary confinement and expanding data-gathering around police stops. Meanwhile, the New York City Council passed a bill requiring more data-gathering around police stops. Traffic stops in the city already required such documentation, but officers will now have to document the race, gender, and age of those they stop in most situations, including some encounters on foot (note that North Carolina became the first state to mandate documentation of demographic data for traffic stops in 1999). The bill also ends solitary confinement in New York City jails (beyond a period of four hours for “de-escalation”).

Alex Murdaugh’s motion for new trial denied. After a South Carolina jury convicted former attorney Alex Murdaugh of the murder of his wife and son almost a year ago, his motion for a new trial was denied this week. Murdaugh’s lawyers argued that the clerk of court improperly communicated with the jury and put pressure on jurors to wrap up their deliberations. One juror testified that the clerk told her to watch Murdaugh closely and another stated that the clerk advised the jurors to watch the defendant’s body language. Although one juror testified that the improper comments influenced her verdict, the judge determined that the effect on the jurors was not significant enough to require a new trial. Murdaugh will now seek relief on appeal.

Conspiracy at Forsyth County Jail. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, working with the State Bureau of Investigation, charged several individuals as part of a four-month investigation into a conspiracy within the Forsyth County Jail involving extensive identity theft. At least 18 incarcerated individuals were victims of the conspiracy. Those charged include two detention officers, an employee of Aramark, and an individual incarcerated on previous charges.

N.C. prison staffing shortage. WRAL reports that nearly 40% of correctional officer positions are currently vacant, leading to the closure of thousands of prison beds and the hiring of hundreds of private contractors. The pandemic appears to have played a role in the staffing issues, with correctional officers logging millions of overtime hours.

Happy Groundhog Day and see you next week.