News Roundup

What a strange week. London’s burning, and almost 15,000 young Britons have been taken into custody; the stock market’s gone unhinged; and weirdest of all, one of the top professional soccer teams in the world, Real Madrid, won the race to sign . . . a seven year old. There have been some interesting developments in the world of criminal law, too:

1. The New York Times Magazine published this article about the Supreme Court’s last term. Among the interesting tidbits: “The court’s most recent additions [Justices Kagan and Sotomayor] have quickly become a formidable duo on the court’s left flank, with the promise to serve as a 21st-century version of Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan. They have voted the same way in 96 percent of the cases they have both heard — the highest rate of agreement of any pair of justices.” The Court’s oral argument calendar for November is now available here.

2. Justices Marshall and Brennan were, of course, famous opponents of the death penalty. Those interested in the capital punishment debate may want to check out a pair of posts at Sentencing Law and Policy: this one, highlighting the cost of capital cases in Indiana, where some rural counties have been forced to raise their property tax rates to support capital proceedings; and this one, reporting on a British editorial calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty and citing a number of American studies on deterrence for support.

3. On another note entirely, the New York Times reports here about an interesting case: “Rosie, the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York, was in the witness box here nuzzling a 15-year-old girl who was testifying that her father had raped and impregnated her. Rosie sat by the teenager’s feet. At particularly bad moments, she leaned in.” The defendant was convicted, the victim was grateful for the dog’s support, and the defense lawyers are planning to appeal, arguing that dogs like Rosie “may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not,” and that “as a therapy dog, Rosie responds to people under stress by comforting them, whether the stress comes from confronting a guilty defendant or lying under oath.” Legally, this doesn’t seem too different from letting a child testify from a parent’s lap, which is OK when it’s necessary, but not when it’s not. Apparently, therapy dogs are appearing in courtrooms across the country. If you’ve heard of them being used in North Carolina, please post a comment.

4. One more item from the Times: in Arizona, one of two identical twins has been charged with a shooting outside a nightclub. But the other twin was at the club too, and some witnesses say that the wrong twin has been charged. It’s starting to look like it may be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt which twin was responsible, Slick or Blizzy.

5. The WSJ Law Blog just posted this item, which discusses the status of several cases challenging DNA-collection-upon-arrest laws. I’m not aware of a legal challenge having been filed against North Carolina’s law.

6. Speaking of our fair state, the News and Observer reports here that current Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety “Reuben Young will serve as the first secretary of the restructured Department of Public Safety, that will combine the current departments of crime control, corrections and juvenile justice.” The restructuring is intended to create management and administrative efficiencies.

7. I often end news roundups with light items, but not today. Instead, I wanted to highlight this article, entitled I Would Like You to Know My Name, by Jennifer Hopper. The author lives in Seattle. She and her partner were sleeping when a stranger broke into their apartment, raped and tortured them, and killed the author’s partner. She has not previously been identified in the media, but wrote the piece as a way of saying: “I no longer want to give off the impression that I’m afraid to be known, or that I might be ashamed of anything that happened that night.” It’s riveting, perhaps especially for those of us who do not work regularly with victims of violent crime. News articles describing some of the facts of the case are here and here. (Hat tip: Crime and Consequences.)

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