News Roundup

Reuters reports that threats against federal judges have substantially increased over the last several years. Threats deemed “serious” by the U.S. Marshals Service rose from 179 incidents in 2019 to more than 450 in 2023. A majority of these threats seem to be motivated by politics and are coming from people without a direct connection to any litigation before the judges. The phenomenon is not unique to federal court judges. A 2022 survey by the National Judicial College of primarily state-court judges revealed that almost 90% of the 398 judges polled expressed concerns for their physical safety. A “true threat” is punishable under state and federal law under any number of different statutes, but many disturbing or offensive comments are protected speech under the First Amendment, as my former colleague Jonathan Holbrook discussed here. Read on for more criminal law news.

Bankman-Fried Sentenced. The criminal charges against former cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried is a story we at the News Roundup have long been following. After being convicted at trial of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy relating to the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX (with losses estimated to be around $8 billion), he was sentenced to 25 years in prison last week by a federal district court in Manhattan, New York. According to the defendant, an appeal is forthcoming, so there may yet still be more to the story.

Easter Swatting. This WRAL story recounts the experience of a Wake Forest family who were victims of a so-called swatting incident on Easter Sunday. Someone falsely reported to police that a shooting had occurred in the family’s home and that a suspect was barricaded inside. This prompted over a dozen emergency response vehicles to converge at the family’s home before determining there was no threat and that the report was a prank. The story correctly notes that making a false report to law enforcement is a crime in North Carolina. As Shea Denning wrote in 2019, G.S. 14-225 treats such false reports as a class 2 misdemeanor unless the false reports relates to the investigation of a missing child or a child victim of certain serious offenses (in which case the charge is elevated to a class H felony). There is also G.S. 14-277.5, which creates the class H felony offense of making false reports of mass violence on school grounds. Outside of those specific situations, though, state law appears to authorize only a misdemeanor charge for an incident like the one faced by the Wake Forest family. According to a spokesperson for the local police quoted in the story, swatting incidents have been on the rise.

Juvenile Detention Center Overcrowding. Juvenile detention centers in the state have seen an increase of 178% since 2019 and are currently over capacity, according to this report. About 20% of juveniles are detained while awaiting mental health treatment at another facility. Among other causes, the story notes problems of understaffing within the juvenile justice system and massive increases of juvenile referrals in the past few years. Several new detention centers are coming to the state soon, which authorities expect will help alleviate the overcrowded conditions.

Charlotte Crime Lab Issues? According to this story from the Charlotte Observer, a civilian analyst employed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Crime Lab is being investigated by the SBI for alleged “irregularities” in the analyst’s testing procedures. The story is light on details, but the local District Attorney has indicated that they are exploring what, if any, potential impact the situation has on criminal cases and convictions within the jurisdiction. According to the local police chief, the lab will be undertaking an extensive audit of its current procedures and practices.

Deaths from ‘Non-Lethal’ Uses of Force. A recent investigation by the Associated Press revealed that more than 1,000 people were killed between 2012 and 2021 by what is generally considered to be non-deadly uses of force by law enforcement agencies in the country. Common non-deadly force methods leading to deaths of suspects includes the use of Tasers and prone restraints. The story notes that the number of deaths may be undercounted due to lack of standardized data collection and reporting of the incidents across the country.

Ohio Drug Dogs Out Following Marijuana Legalization. Voters in Ohio approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in the state last November, making it the 24th state to do so. This has created a problem for drug-detecting canines, who are trained to detect cannabis and cannot unlearn to alert on the now-legal substance. According to the story, around 400 dogs are being retired to avoid legal challenges to their alerts. New pups that don’t alert to cannabis will have to be trained and deployed in the field. A bill is under consideration in the legislature to give each affected law enforcement agency $20,000 each to obtain and train a new generation of canines. That story is here.

Prison Drug Trafficking Ring Busted. Prison guards and other corrections staff were among the 13 people convicted of a wide-ranging drug trafficking conspiracy in federal court in Louisiana. The defendants were part of a scheme to ship drugs from California to Baton Rouge, with the contraband ultimately being distributed to the maximum-security prison at Angola and other prisons within the state. The network sold and distributed meth, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to prisoners before a multi-agency investigation led by state and federal authorities shut it down.

Kat-napping, Again? Not to stray too far from criminal law news, but Bob the Cat (a/k/a Maui) was back in the news this week. We previously covered the dispute over custody of the animal, here.  When a North Carolina woman took her cat of ten years to the vet, they discovered the feline had a chip identifying its owner as a woman in Kansas (where the North Carolina woman originally found the cat). Wake County Animal Services took the animal into protective custody pending resolution of the ownership issue. Ultimately, a determination was made that the cat was the property of its original Kansas owner. That woman arranged for a cousin of hers in Statesville to pick up the cat on her behalf. Now, the cousin is claiming ownership of the animal and is apparently refusing to release it to the Kansas woman. Further litigation of the ownership issue seems likely.

Lego Mugshots. As this AP News story reports, California law restricts the publication of mugshots on social media by law enforcement agencies, only permitting photos of violent offenders to be publicly posted (and even then only for a two-week period), unless the suspect poses an immediate threat to the public. In an effort to comply with the law and protect the privacy of suspects, the department settled on using Lego heads superimposed on the headshots of suspects in their social media posts. Earlier this month, the LEGO Group, the Danish company behind the ubiquitous toy building blocks, requested the department refrain from using its intellectual property in this way. The department has agreed to cease and desist but is apparently considering other substitutions for suspect photos in order to keep this type of content on its social media account.

A High Time. Two young men are facing misdemeanor trespassing charges after being caught partying atop a construction crane in Naples, Florida. The pair of 18-year-olds allegedly snuck into the fenced construction site after hours and free-climbed to the operator’s cab of the sky-high crane. A neighbor saw the teens enter the site, and responding officers heard loud voices and music coming from the top of the crane. Apparently, Florida law authorizes felony charges for this kind of trespass, but only where the site has a sign posted designating it as a construction site and warning of the possibility of felony charges—a notice this construction site apparently did not have.

I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing weekend. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for news items, let me know. I can always be reached at