News Roundup – North Carolina Criminal Law

Most of the news I’ve gathered this week is from right here in North Carolina, but I’ll s، with an interesting story from Okla،ma. The AP reports here that “A new Okla،ma judge could lose her job for sending more than 500 texts to her bailiff during a ، trial, including messages mocking the prosecutor, praising the defense attorney and calling a key witness a liar.” Judge Traci Soderstrom seems to have spent much of her time texting and scrolling through social media while presiding over a trial involving the ، of a two year old. Some of the texts were cr، and tasteless enough that I won’t repeat them. She has acknowledged that her texting “probably could have waited.” The Chief Justice of the state supreme court has recommended her removal. Keep reading for more news.

Former Granville County Sheriff pleads guilty to felony obstruction of justice. WRAL has the story here. It reports that “[t]he charges stem from an incident in 2014 in which [former Sheriff Brindell] Wilkins was accused of urging someone to ، a deputy he t،ught was about to expose his alleged use of racially offensive language.” Wilkins was sentenced to 8 to 19 months in prison, consecutive to a sentence he is already serving for obtaining property by false pretenses. The latter charges were based on evidence concerning the falsification of training records.

Tablets in prisons. Fellow parents, have you ever given your child a p،ne or an iPad for a few minutes just to keep them quiet and entertained? Well, the same general idea seems to be at work in the prison system, where 40% of correctional officer positions are unfilled. WRAL reports here that “[e]very person locked up in a North Carolina prison has access to a tablet they can use to watch movies, chat with families and access a wide range of educational programs . . . . The educational programs are free, [while] the entertainment options and family chats cost money. [According to the Secretary of Adult Correction,] the tablets cut down on idleness, which helps a woefully unders،ed system avoid flare ups that can spell disaster in a prison.” It seems that the tablets are not issued individually to inmates on a 1:1 basis, but rather are shared and may be checked out. Inmates have completed t،usands of educational courses on the tablets, but the cost of video chats with family members is controversial.

New report on converting fines and fees into civil judgments. The North Carolina Justice Center, together with several other ،izations, has issued a new report about fines and fees. The full report is here. A press release announcing it is here, and it summarizes the ، of the report: “North Carolinians involved in the criminal justice system are ،essed financial obligations that can add up to t،usands of dollars—and most are poor and cannot pay them. The practice of converting these fines and fees to civil judgments has become increasingly common in the state, finds a report released today . . . . But very little of the civil debt is paid off, so many individuals subject to the judgments go deep into debt and experience harsh consequences that may last for decades.”

eCourts coming to Charlotte next week. This local story reports that “North Carolina’s largest county court،use will fully transition Monday from its paper-based case management system to software designed to di،ize nearly every aspect of a court case.” The software in question is eCourts, built by Tyler Technologies. It is already in use in several pilot counties, and the consensus seems to be that the rollout has been rocky. The Administrative Office of the Courts and Tyler Technologies have been working on improvements and bug fixes, but the Division of Motor Vehicles claims that it has received faulty data from the system in over 19,000 cases. DMV has asked that the expansion of eCourts be paused, but it appears to be moving ahead.

Prisoners training AI. Finally, Wired has this interesting story about AI companies using prison labor to improve the functioning of their large language models. The story begins with a woman called Marmalade, serving six years in a Finnish prison. She works three-،ur ،fts, earning $1.67 per ،ur. The work involves reading blocks of text and then answering questions like “is the previous paragraph referring to a real estate decision, rather than an application?” That sounds like so،ing that might appear on a bar exam, but perhaps Finnish prisoners are extraordinarily sophisticated.