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News Roundup

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“Big brother invasion of privacy or pro-active policing? That’s the question after a new report revealed seven North Carolina universities use or have used powerful social media-monitoring programs to keep an eye on everything from campus protests to student well-being to drugs.” So begins this WRAL story about Social Sentinel, a product used by some campus police departments to track student social media posts that may indicate potential unrest or criminal activity. Duke, UNC, and NC State are among the institutions named in the story. The reporter who led the investigation is a former UNC student who became interested in the topic during the Silent Sam protests on campus. Keep reading for more news.

Todd Ishee named Secretary of the Department of Adult Correction. This press release indicates that Governor Cooper has selected Todd Ishee to lead the Department of Adult Correction, which is being spun off from the Department of Public Safety as a result of recent legislation. Mr. Ishee has been serving as Commissioner of Prisons within the Department of Public Safety, so he appears to be well-positioned to do the job. According to the release, he “brings more than 30 years of correctional experience to his new role as Secretary.”

New Council on Criminal Justice report on racial disparities in imprisonment. Speaking of prisons, the CCJ has a new report here. The headline finding is that “[o]ver the first two decades of the 21st century, the disparity in Black and White state imprisonment rates (the ratio of Black-to-White rates) fell 40%.” Substantial disparities remain, driven in part by “disparity in rates of violent offending . . . disparity in prison time served . . . [and] [t]he role of criminal history in sentencing and release decisions.” The report has helpful executive summary and lots of charts for those interested in digging deeper.

Federal appeals court rules for Justice Department in skirmish over Mar-a-Lago documents. I am having trouble keeping up with all the developments in what may be the most-litigated search warrant in human history, but the AP reports here that “a federal appeals court on Wednesday permitted the Justice Department to resume its use of classified records seized from [former president Trump’s] Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation.” The ruling is described as “an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department.” The court also “pointedly noted that Trump had presented no evidence that he had declassified the sensitive records,” contrary to suggestions the ex-President has made in the media. IIRC, the panel included two judges appointed by then-President Trump. A court-appointed special master continues to review the non-classified documents seized pursuant to the warrant.

Judge not happy with progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner. Philadelphia’s high-profile progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner is back in the news. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports here that a federal judge has excoriated Krasner’s office for (1) “fail[ing] to conduct a careful review of [a convicted murderer’s] case before asking [the judge] to vacate the death penalty,” specifically by failing to note that the man had also been convicted of attempting a violent courtroom escape, and (2) by “provid[ing] a false account of its interactions with the victims’ relatives . . . [by] filing documents suggesting that the family . . . had consented to a request to vacate [the] death sentence,” when in fact several family members were adamantly opposed. The court ordered District Attorney Krasner to write a letter of apology to the family. Krasner denies any wrongdoing by his office.

Penalty phase of Parkland school shooter trial nearing its conclusion. The Orlando Sun Sentinel has this story about the trial of Nikolas Cruz, the man who entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and fatally shot 17 people. Cruz has acknowledged his guilt, and the only issue in the trial is whether he will be sentenced to death. According to the story, “[t]he defense called 26 witnesses over 11 days to present its case, focusing on Cruz’s biological mother’s alcohol and drug abuse while she was pregnant with him, and following it up with his adoptive mother’s repeated, inadequate and ultimately failed efforts to help deal with his increasingly violent outbursts.” It appears that Cruz may suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The prosecution rebuttal case begins next week.

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