News Roundup

North Carolina has been all over the web recently. The News and Observer’s habitual felon article, which I discussed in a previous post, has made a splash on several of the most-read criminal law blogs — here and here (both links involve some scrolling) — with some of the reaction being positive, and some less so.

Getting similar coverage is S 461, the Racial Justice Act. As reported here, one version of the bill has passed the Senate and another is progressing in the House. The bill would allow a defendant to argue, before trial or after conviction, that he was prosecuted capitally or sentenced to death based on his race. He would be permitted to present evidence that “race was a significant factor in decisions to seek or impose the sentence of death in the county, the prosecutorial district, the judicial division, or the State at the time the death sentence was sought or imposed.” Such evidence could include “statistical evidence or other evidence, including, but not limited to, sworn testimony of attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, jurors, or other members of the criminal justice system.” If a court were to agree that a particular jurisdiction made death penalty decisions based on race, it would be permitted, but apparently not required, to infer that the particular defendant’s case was likewise tainted by racial considerations. Anyone have thoughts about the practical impact of the bill, if passed? What does it add to the existing law of equal protection and selective prosecution?

Finally, the New York Times has an interesting story about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s ruling affirming the denial of habeas relief to a wrongfully convicted defendant. The article doesn’t suggest anything improper, or even unusual, about Judge Sotomayor’s ruling, but the defendant in question is understandably unhappy that a judge who, in his view, let him linger in prison is now poised to ascend to the nation’s highest court.

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