News Roundup

Duke took it on the chin last night, losing to a confident, athletic Arizona team. That’s the basketball roundup. Now for the criminal law roundup:

1. The Conference of District Attorneys has completed a review of the SBI lab cases identified as problematic in the Swecker report. The Conference’s press release states that the review “found no cases where the guilt of the defendant was called into question,” because in all the cases (a) that resulted in a conviction and (b) for which a file could be located, there was “additional overwhelming evidence of guilt including confessions, eyewitnesses, ballistics, DNA or a combination thereof.” The News and Observer story here contains several defense lawyers’ take on the review, and an editorial here describes the review as “suspect.” In related news, the General Assembly is moving forward with a bill to reform the workings of the lab. The News and Observer story is here and the legislation itself is here.

2. I noticed an interesting letter to the editor in the News and Observer this week. It’s available online here, and it claims that data “from the UNC Highway Safety Research Center shows that cellphone driving provides the same risk as driving drunk, and does so whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free.” It’s worth checking out the graph accompanying the letter; the author of the letter is asking the General Assembly to ban all cell phone use while driving, including hands-free use. We’ve blogged before about some of the studies on driving distractions.

3. In re J.D.B., a significant Miranda case, was argued before the Supreme Court this week. The transcript of the oral argument — featuring Attorney General Roy Cooper and Assistant Appellate Defender Barbara Blackman — is available here. The talking heads seem to think that this case is a toss-up, with Kennedy the likely deciding vote. Those who are keenly interested in reading the tea lives might be interested to know that Kent Scheidegger, at the firmly prosecution-oriented blog Crime and Consequences, said “I am no fan of the Miranda rule and do not like to see any expansion, but it’s pretty hard to swallow that a reasonable person in this kid’s shoes would have felt free to leave under the totality of the circumstances.” (Of course, “free to leave” isn’t the test for custody under Miranda, so maybe his comment isn’t a tea leaf worth reading.)

4. Meanwhile, across the country, the Barry Bonds perjury trial has begun. He’s charged with lying to a grand jury about his steroid use. Reportedly, the government’s first witness was Bonds’ “childhood friend and former business partner[, who] described how baseball’s biggest star walked into the master bedroom at his spring training home along with trainer Greg Anderson, who had a syringe with a needle.” To me, Anderson’s role in the case is the most interesting part of the whole circus. He’s repeatedly refused to testify against Bonds, and accordingly has been sent to jail for contempt for the fourth time in five years. Some experts have suggested that he will be prosecuted for obstruction of justice at the conclusion of Bonds’ trial. Would folks be interested in a blog post about options for dealing with witnesses who refuse to testify? I’m not sure how often that arises, and how often witnesses refuse to testify as opposed to being suddenly unable to remember anything relevant.

5. A few other quick tidbits. Several senators have asked Apple to ban an iPhone app that publicizes the location of drunk driving checkpoints. The federal Bureau of Prisons is apparently considering increasing the availability of “good time” to combat crowding. A San Antonio Taco Bell customer was so angry with a price increase to the Beefy Crunch Burrito that he fired a gun at en employee before getting in a shootout with police. (What was he thinking? The classic Bean Burrito, with rice and a few Fiesta Potatoes added to it, is the way to go when running for the border.) Finally, be thankful that you are not a civil litigator: the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports here on a deposition in which a lawyer asked the deponent whether his office “had photocopying machines” when he worked there. This drew a vagueness objection, because there are “different types of photocopiers,” including ones using “photostatic technology . . . xerographic technology [and] scanning technology,” and how could the witness possibly understand the question posed? The kerfuffle over what counts as a photocopying machine goes on for ten transcript pages, and at least the blog’s excepts from it are guaranteed to make you crack a smile.

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