News Roundup

The hottest topic of the week — aside from the gripping Duke/UNC basketball game on Wednesday night — was certainly the hearing in Forsyth County about the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act, G.S. 15A-2010 et seq. According to this News and Observer report, the state argued that the Act is “too sweeping to apply fairly across the state,” and that “the law does not specify whether the courts should consider the race of the inmate, the victim or the jurors when considering bias claims.” Judge William Wood rejected the state’s constitutional arguments, and the story indicates that the merits of some defendants’ claims may be heard as early as next month. Of course, the Racial Justice Act was passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature, and with the General Assembly in Republican hands, there is considerable speculation that reform or repeal of the Act may be in the works.

In other news:

1. WRAL ran this story, noting that DWI defendants sentenced to prison typically don’t serve their entire sentences. Jamie Markham did a more scholarly analysis of the same issue here last year. (It’s hard to keep up with us!) An effort to make certain DWI sentences longer is now afoot in the legislature — check out the new “aggravated level one” that would be created by HB 49.

2. As noted in a previous news roundup, legislation has also been proposed that would target video gaming/electronic sweepstakes, again. However, it seems as if interest in legalizing, regulating, and perhaps taxing the industry may be increasing. The News and Observer just reported that industry representatives — and opponents — met with Republican legislators, and apparently the lottery is also looking into the issue.

3. Changes to the SBI lab are also on the agenda this legislative session. The News and Observer reports here that “[a] series of reforms aimed at restoring credibility to the State Bureau of Investigation and upgrading scientific standards at the state’s crime lab sailed through its first legislative test Wednesday.” I believe that the legislation in question is HB 27, which you can review here.

4. The New York Times has had a couple of interesting stories lately. This one is about shaken baby syndrome. The gist of the article is this:

A dozen years ago, the medical profession held that if the triad of subdural and retinal bleeding and brain swelling was present without a fracture or bruise that would indicate, for example, that a baby had accidently fallen, abuse must have occurred through shaking. In the past decade, that consensus has begun to come undone.

This one reports on a 90-minute speech Justice Sotomayor gave to a law school. It contains some interesting remarks about her views and how she perceives her role on the Court.

5. Finally, basketball season seems like a particularly appropriate time of year for this post, the headline of which asks whether it is inhumane for a giant criminal to be incarcerated in a small cell. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that the inmate in question is Dutch, and while he is apparently 6’9″ and 500 pounds, there is no indication in the story of particular athletic prowess or interest.)

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