News Roundup

Published for NC Criminal Law on June 02, 2023.

The General Assembly is working hard to fashion a budget for the upcoming biennium, but in the meantime, legislators are conducting other business. Of interest to this audience, H347, a bill that would legalize gambling on sports, appears to be very close to becoming law. Both chambers have passed the bill, but in slightly different versions that will need to be reconciled before final passage. Meanwhile, S3, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, has passed the Senate and is working its way through House committees. Its fate in the House is uncertain but that is more than could be said in prior years, when similar measures have passed the Senate but have not received meaningful consideration in the House. Keep reading for more news.

NYPD “courtesy cards” – an instrument of corruption? The Associated Press reports here on a lawsuit filed by a NYPD officer concerning the use of “courtesy cards” that are apparently available to members of the force. The story asserts that “[t]hough not officially recognized by the NYPD, the laminated cards have long been treated as a perk of the job. The city’s police unions issue them to members, who circulate them among those who want to signal their NYPD connections — often to get out of minor infraction like speeding or failing to wear a seat belt.” The officer who filed suit asserts that “[c]urrent and retired officers now have access to hundreds of cards, giving them away in exchange for a discount on a meal or a home improvement job.” The officer contends that the department’s unwritten – but vigorously enforced – policy is not to ticket those who flash a courtesy card. Indeed, the officer contends that he was punished for ticketing the holder of a courtesy card provided by a high-ranking NYPD officer.

“Fighting crime requires more police and less prosecution.” That’s the headline of this piece in the Washington Post, which is essentially an edited interview with Jennifer Doleac, an academic economist and crime researcher who will soon be taking a leadership role at Arnold Ventures. The interview is wide-ranging and covers topics including COVID, progressive prosecutors, and de-policing. Part of her argument reminded me of previous researchers’ assertions that people considering whether to commit a crime are more likely to be deterred by a high certainty of punishment (even if the severity is low) than a high severity of punishment (if the certainty is low).

That 70’s Show star convicted of rape in trial implicating the Church of Scientology. WRAL reports here that Danny Masterson, an actor who starred in That 70’s Show, was convicted this week of raping two women, two decades ago. The prosecution alleged that Masterson drugged and raped the women at his Hollywood home. Masterson was a high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology at the time – a faith seemingly far more common in Hollywood than anywhere else – and the victims were also members. The victims testified that “when they reported Masterson to church officials, they were told they were not raped, were put through ethics programs themselves, and were warned against going to law enforcement to report a member of such high standing.” The church denies wrongdoing.

Lawyer uses ChatGPT to write brief, now facing sanctions. This post at the Volokh Conspiracy is worth reading in full but the short version is that a highly experienced lawyer apparently asked ChatGPT to provide some cases in support of a legal proposition; the AI made up some case names and citations; and the lawyer, without seeking to verify the cases’ existence or holdings, included them in a filing in federal court. The court seems to have had some doubts about the cited cases and asked counsel to file copies of the cases themselves, and counsel then did file what counsel claimed were excerpts from the cases, possibly themselves invented by ChatGPT. The court is now considering whether to sanction the lawyer and plans to hold a hearing on the matter next week. I don’t think things look too good for the lawyer but I suppose all the facts aren’t in yet, so stay tuned.

14-year-old “Youth Explorer” successfully impersonates a police officer for a shift. Or maybe much longer. The Verge has this article about Vincent Richardson, who successfully posed as a Chicago police officer for a shift when he was a 14-year-old Youth Explorer. He was apparently issued a partner, a radio, and a cruiser; helped with traffic stops; and made an arrest. This all took place in 2009, and is known locally as the “kid cop” incident. Richardson was charged with impersonating an officer and sentenced to probation. The update is that he’s done the same thing – in slightly different ways – many times since. In all, he’s been charged five times with impersonating an officer. Richardson now contends that back in 2009 he impersonated an officer for weeks, not just a shift, and that he once gave an arrestee a “rough ride” at a superior’s behest. A friend claims that Richardson also impersonated a bus driver and was issued a city bus, which he and the friend took on a joyride around the city. It is hard to know what to believe, but the story is interesting.

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