News Roundup

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The biggest news of the last few days, of course, is that Kyrie Irving is expected to return to the court when Duke plays Hampton this afternoon. (OK, the biggest news has been from Libya and Japan, but Kyrie Irving is a close third!) In terms of criminal law news, there have also been several interesting stories:

1. The General Assembly is rolling along. The House passed Laura’s Law, which would increase the penalties for drunk driving, 118-0. It’s on to the Senate. Meanwhile, the News and Observer reports that the Republican leadership believes that “a move to put partisan identification back in judicial elections could pass this session.” A move to a system of appointing judges with retention elections is apparently unlikely.

2. The News and Observer also notes that Max Cogburn, a Buncombe County native, former federal prosecutor, and former federal magistrate judge, has been confirmed to be a district judge in the Western District of North Carolina. I believe that the seat in question is the one formerly occupied by Lacy Thornburg, so Judge Cogburn will be filling some substantial shoes.

3. Two death-penalty-related stories caught my eye this week. Locally, this story reports on the oral argument before the state supreme court on whether an administrative law judge had the authority to order the Council of State to reconsider North Carolina’s execution protocol. That litigation is one reason why the state has had a de facto moratorium on executions for the past few years. Nationally, this New York Times piece by Oregon death row inmate Christian Longo, begins as follows: “Eight years ago I was sentenced to death for the murders of my wife and three children. I am guilty. . . . There is no way to atone for my crimes, but I believe that a profound benefit to society can come from my circumstances. I have asked to end my remaining appeals, and then donate my organs after my execution to those who need them. But my request has been rejected by the prison authorities.” It’s an interesting piece, an interesting idea, and it has an interesting backstory. The National Review has this article about Longo, his crimes, and his history as a con man.

4. I’ve blogged before about the controversy in the federal courts over child pornography sentencing. One of the legends of the federal bench is about to weigh in, and I mean really, really weigh in. New York district judge Jack Weinstein has apparently issued a 420-page “tentative draft” opinion, concluding that a federal five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of child pornography violates the Eighth Amendment. Wow! I don’t think I’ve written 420 pages in my life, and now a 90-year-old judge is cranking out a 420-page opinion in what sounds like a fairly typical federal criminal case. (Hat tip: Sentencing Law and Policy.)

5. Finally, a few quick items. Law school applications are down quite a bit this year, about 11%. The story I saw quotes a UNC career counselor as observing that “the students I work . . . are concerned about the value of a law degree.” Also concerning is the conduct of the New Orleans Police Department. Federal officials just reported that it is “severely dysfunctional on every level,” from the routine use of excessive force to a failure to investigate serious crimes. And that’s not taking into account “any of the nine or more federal criminal investigations into the department.” Not exactly the way to attract new residents. On a lighter note, this Texas story describes a bank robber who, at the teller’s request, showed two forms of ID before making off with $800. Surprisingly, the criminal mastermind was quickly apprehended.

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