News Roundup

It’s been almost two weeks, so there’s been more news than I can reasonably cram into a news roundup. But I’ll try!

1. The General Assembly’s in session. They’re working on the budget. The News and Observer reports here that “[t]he state budget proposed by House Republicans Tuesday would slash budgets for courts, public safety and prisons by about 10 percent, while making sweeping changes to how the agencies are organized.” As I understand it — which is not very well — the House Republicans’ budget is a starting point that will be refined within the house, as it moves to the Senate, and in final negotiations as it moves to the Governor. But the current proposal has a number of surprising features, including a plan to consolidate prosecutorial districts and some form of fee cap on indigent cases.

2. The General Assembly is also considering quite a number of other proposals that would impact the criminal justice system. One is H615, which the News and Observer describes here as amending “the Racial Justice Act so that anyone seeking relief under the law would have to show that prosecutors intentionally used race as a discriminatory factor in seeking the death penalty or selecting the jury to hear the case.”

3. Governor Perdue has also been making news. According to this News and Observer story, she just “created a nonpartisan panel to screen candidates for new judges, a move she said would reduce political influence and lead to higher caliber appointments on North Carolina’s bench. Instead of following the normal path of appointing political supporters to the bench, Perdue will choose her judges from three nominees recommended by the N.C. Judicial Nominating Commission, which she formed by executive order.”

4. Regular readers know that I love electronic gadgets and am interested in the intersection between criminal law and emerging technology. So I’ve been very interested in recent developments in the Bradley Cooper murder case being tried in Wake County. Apparently, the state’s evidence shows that shortly before his wife’s death, “Cooper’s IBM ThinkPad show[ed] zoomed-in satellite images of the wooded area where her decomposing body was found.” The defense contends that the time stamps on the computer are not reliable. This aspect of the case has captured the interest of geeks everywhere, with Gizmodo even covering the story.

5. I wrote a recent post about Connick v. Thompson, the United States Supreme Court case limiting prosecutors’ civil liability for Brady violations. The plaintiff in the case, John Thompson, has written a widely-published editorial about the matter. Whatever you think about the Court’s ruling, it’s a powerful read, including the following passage: “I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued. Worst of all, I wasn’t the only person they played dirty with. Of the six men one of my prosecutors got sentenced to death, five eventually had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct.”

6. Finally, a couple of quick items. This story reports on an Israeli study of parole decisions that concludes “judges were much more likely to accept prisoners’ requests for parole at the beginning of the day than the at end. Moreover, a prisoner’s chances of receiving parole more than doubled if his case was heard at the beginning of one of the three [daily] sessions, rather than later on in the session.” This story suggests that people may have some ability to “tell who is a criminal by looking at his face.” But this story goes one better: it reports on new glasses to be worn by Brazilian police that “can scan 400 faces a second at 50 yards away” and match them against police databases of criminals, thereby enabling police to identify known criminals in crowds. Wow.

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