News Roundup

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The weather forecast calls for a rainy weekend: a good time to sit around, listening to some music. Preferably Bob Dylan, since he is apparently the musician most often cited in legal opinions, more than the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen combined. In other news:

1. The Innocence Inquiry Commission is looking into an Asheville murder case. Several defendants pleaded guilty, but now contend that exculpatory DNA evidence was withheld, that they were pressured by defense counsel, and that they are in fact innocent. The Commission unanimously referred the case to a three-judge panel for a hearing. The News and Observer has stories here, here, and here, and an editorial about H 778, which would prohibit the Commission from considering guilty plea cases in the future, here.

2. Speaking of bills pending before the General Assembly, folks may be interested in H 779, which would expand G.S. 15A-211. The statute currently requires that custodial interrogations in homicide cases be recorded, as long as they happen at a “place of detention.” The bill would require recording for “all custodial interrogations of juveniles in criminal investigations conducted at any place of detention” and to custodial interrogations in connection with “any Class A, B1, or B2 felony, and any Class C felony of rape, sex offense, or assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.” The bill passed the House unanimously and is now before the Senate.

3. Following up on a story mentioned here last week, the News and Observer reports that the Office of Indigent Defense Services is “broke” and facing budget cuts, and that about 100 lawyers (out of a total of 3,000) have withdrawn from court-appointed lists in advance of possible reductions in the hourly rate paid to court-appointed lawyers.

4. Speaking of money, Sentencing Law and Policy notes here that video court appearances are being used more and more widely across the country and seem to work well and to reduce costs. Such appearances are expressly authorized by statute in North Carolina for certain types of proceedings, such as initial appearances, G.S. 15A-511(a1), and first appearances, G.S. 15A-601(a1). I’d be interested to know how widely these provisions are being used, and how the video appearances are working.

5. Two interesting stories from other states. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has this piece about the rise of mitigation specialists in capital cases in Texas, and the impact that may be having on the number of death sentences handed down. And the New York Times has this article about “internet sweepstakes cafes” in Florida, which appear to be in more or less the same state of legal limbo that they are here.

6. Finally, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a runner, and I grew up outside San Francisco, so naturally I was attracted to this post on Crime and Consequences, which notes that the famous Bay to Breakers footrace will take place this weekend. For the first time, the race will include “a handful of checkpoints . . . scattered along the route” where officers “will screen racers and revelers to make sure they are properly registered and aren’t intoxicated.” (Bay to Breakers is at least as much a costume party as it is a race, and excluding intoxicated runners may thin the field significantly!) The post ponders the Fourth Amendment implications of this development. I had better get to work expanding my paper on motor vehicle checkpoints to include runner checkpoints.

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