WRAL reports here on renovations at the State Crime Laboratory. The renovations, supported by a $5 million appropriation, include “a new design for the Drug, Chemistry and Toxicology wing” that allows more space for analysts and scientific work. The idea is to improve workflow and reduce backlogs – a goal on which virtually everyone can agree. Keep reading for more news.
A 21-year-old Massachusetts man has been arrested in connection with the recent leak of classified documents concerning the war in Ukraine. His name is Jack Teixeira, and he is an IT specialist and a member of the Air National Guard. WRAL reports here that “Attorney General Merrick Garland said he is to be charged with removing or transmitting classified national defense information, a crime under the Espionage Act.” Keep reading for more news.
A bill was introduced at the General Assembly this week to prohibit certain pet leasing agreements. H226 would make it a class 2 misdemeanor to lease or sell a cat or dog pursuant to an agreement in which the animal is subject to repossession in the case of a missed payment. I had not heard of such agreements, but according to this Business Insider article, they are legal in 42 states and are not uncommon. Typically they are used when a person wants to buy a pet but can’t pay the entire amount up front and so enters into a lease-to-own or installment purchase agreement that carries the risk of repossession. A bill to address pet leasing was previously introduced in 2021, but that bill (H849) did not advance out of committee. Keep reading for more news.
In January, actor Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting a cinematographer on a film set in New Mexico. There is no suggestion that the shooting was intentional but the prosecution contends that Baldwin and others were grossly negligent in their handling of firearms. The local district attorney asked that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case. Andrea Reeb, a former district attorney who was elected to the state legislature in 2022, was appointed. In February, Baldwin moved to disqualify her, arguing that having a legislator exercise “either the executive power or the judicial power” as a special prosecutor violated separation of powers principles. Although the court has not yet rule on the motion, Reeb stepped down this week, saying that she “will not allow questions about [her] serving as a legislator and prosecutor to cloud the real issue at hand.” The Associated Press has more here. Keep reading for more news.
The most shocking story of the week involves four residents of South Carolina who travelled to Mexico, where two were killed and the other two abducted and eventually rescued. At least one member of the group was apparently planning a cosmetic medical procedure while abroad. It initially appeared that the four had been accidentally caught in the middle of a shootout between rival cartels, but more recent reporting has suggested that they may have been targeted after being mistaken for Haitian drug traffickers – or even may have been involved in drug trafficking themselves. WRAL has an updated story here, and the New York Post has one here scrutinizing the criminal history of the victims. It is certainly an evolving story. Read on for more news.
Next door in South Carolina, disgraced personal injury attorney and part-time prosecutor Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of the murders of his wife and son. The case has been in the news partly because of what some see as the exotic lifestyle of the Murdaugh family, with the murders taking place on the family’s 1700 acre lowcountry hunting estate. (The property has recently been put up for sale and is under contract – you can see the listing here.) Murdaugh testified in his own defense, admitting that he regularly stole money from his clients and that he lied to police during the investigation of the crimes. Closing arguments took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with deliberations lasting under three hours on Thursday afternoon. The Associated Press covers the verdict here. NPR has a story here that addresses some of the major revelations of the trial. Keep reading for more news.
Things are going full tilt at the General Assembly. One new bill of interest this week would reduce the per se impairment blood alcohol content from .08 to .05. If the bill passes, this 50-state comparison chart suggests that North Carolina would be the second state, after Utah, to adopt the lower limit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Utah’s adoption of the .05 standard has saved lives and recommends that other states follow suit. Keep reading for more news.
The legislature is in session and a bill to make the Moravian cookie the official state cookie was introduced this week. According to my admittedly casual research, only a few states have official cookies. The first was New Mexico, which adopted the biscochito/bizcochito as the state cookie in 1989. Judging from this recipe, it seems to be sort of a cinnamon sugar concoction made with brandy. Read on for even more impactful news.
Attorney General Josh Stein now appears to be highly unlikely to be charged criminally over a campaign ad he ran in the last election cycle. The ad charged that Stein’s opponent in the 2020 election – Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill – “left 1,500 rape kits on a shelf leaving rapists on the streets.” O’Neill complained to the State Board of Elections, contending that the ad was false and violated G.S. 163-274(a)(9), which makes it a misdemeanor to “publish . . . derogatory reports with reference to any candidate . . . knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.” The Board recommended taking no action, but Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asked the SBI to investigate further, and ultimately informed Stein that she was planning to submit the matter to a grand jury. Stein then sued in federal court, asserting inter alia that the statute is unconstitutional and seeking an injunction against Freeman. The district court declined to issue a preliminary injunction, but this week the Fourth Circuit said that it is pretty sure that the statute is unconstitutional and so the district court should reconsider. The main problem with the statute is that it “likely criminalizes at least some truthful speech,” namely, a “derogatory report” that is made in “reckless disregard of its truth or falsity” but that turns out to be true. Although the Fourth Circuit did not expressly instruct the district court how to proceed, any path forward for criminal charges now appears to be narrow at best. WRAL has more here. Keep reading for more news.
The Associated Press reports here that “[f]ive fired Memphis police officers were charged Thursday with murder and other crimes in the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop.” The officers allegedly beat Mr. Nichols to death. All five have been charged with second-degree murder among other crimes. Video of the incident is expected to be released to the public today and those who have seen it describe it as “horrific.” In a local connection, the Chief of Police in Memphis is CJ Davis, who served in a similar position in Durham until 2021. Chief Davis fired the five officers and has described their conduct as “a failure of basic humanity.” The officers’ attorneys say that they have little information about the case but that none of the officers intended to kill Mr. Nichols. Keep reading for more news.