Senate Bill 300 was an omnibus criminal justice reform bill passed last year. One of its provisions presumptively decriminalizes most violations of local ordinances. In this post, I’ll address some of the questions that have arisen about that provision.
2020 has so far seen several court opinions addressing racial discrimination in criminal cases in one way or another. A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___ (2020), struck down Louisiana’s practice of allowing non-unanimous jury verdicts, pointing to the law’s racist origins (Emily Coward blogged about the decision here). In State v. Bennett, ___ N.C. ___, 843 S.E.2d 222 (June 5, 2020) and State v. Hobbs, ___ N.C. ___, 841 S.E.2d 492 (May 1, 2020), the North Carolina Supreme Court sent back Batson claims for merits hearings at the trial court (before those decisions, Emily discussed the cases in part here). In State v. Copley, 374 N.C. 224 (April 3, 2020), the N.C. Supreme Court grappled with the issue of race in closing argument (Emily also wrote about the Court of Appeals opinion in that case here). Additionally, the court recently ruled in favor of two capital defendants in the Racial Justice Act litigation. See State v. Ramseur, ___ N.C. ___, 843 S.E.2d 106 (June 5, 2020) (holding repeal of RJA was unconstitutional as an ex post facto violation and granting evidentiary hearing on the merits of claims) and State v. Burke, ___ N.C. ___, 843 S.E.2d 246 (June 5, 2020) (same).
Turning to policing, the Court of Appeals recently weighed in on civil liability and the police, with a divided panel finding excessive force claims against the officer could proceed and affirming the trial court. See Bartley v. City of High Point, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (July 7, 2020). Although the case did not involve allegations of racial bias, it focused on immunity issues that are common in such cases. At the Fourth Circuit, two recent decisions directly addressed issues of race and policing. The first case involved the denial of qualified immunity for officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black suspect; the second dealt with warrantless pedestrian stops. Both cases raise interesting and relevant concerns in the conversation on racial justice and police reform. The excessive force case is Estate of Wayne A. Jones v. City of Martinsburg, 961 F.3d 661 (June 9, 2020) and the warrantless stop case is U.S. v. Curry, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 3980362 (July 15, 2020) (en banc). Today’s post examines the excessive force decision.
Advocates of criminal justice reform have called for numerous policy changes in recent years, including raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, eliminating or reducing reliance on money bail, decreasing monetary penalties for poor defendants, ending license revocations as a sanction for failing to appear for court or pay monies owed, and abandoning mandatory minimum sentencing. Many have also advocated for a re-examination of the role of the prosecutor, suggesting that prosecutors could better channel their power and discretion to lessen racial disparities, reduce recidivism, rehabilitate offenders, and cut rates of incarceration. Two reports published last December focus on this re-envisioned prosecutorial function. The first, 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor, suggests practical steps that prosecutors can take to reduce incarceration and increase fairness. The second, Prosecutorial Attitudes, Perspectives, and Priorities: Insights from the Inside, explores what prosecutors in four prosecutorial districts think about definitions of success, office priorities, community engagement, and racial disparities.