Law

Legal Aid NC
legalaidnc.org

Legal Aid of North Carolina is closing three offices due to budget cuts totaling more than $2 million. Legal Aid serves poor people who can't afford legal help with issues like mortgage assistance and domestic violence. The non-profit is facing cuts from both the federal and state government. Legal Aid of North Carolina Executive Director George Hausen says they're closing the rural offices in Henderson, Boone, and Smithfield.

Law enforcement officials say their efforts to crack down on people who text on their cell phones while driving is resulting in some success. Jessica Jones reports.

A state law banning texting while driving went into effect about a year and a half ago. Since then, the State Highway Patrol has issued about 11 hundred tickets to people who've been texting on the road. Sergeant Jeff Gordon is a spokesman for the department. He says the patrol conducts periodic "Operation Distracted Driver" campaigns to crack down on the practice.

Durham Police Department vehicle
Durham Police Department

The Durham Police have a new reminder for residents about the dangers of driving drunk. It looks like a police car in the front and a taxi cab in the back. The car tells drunk drivers they can choose their ride- either a taxi or a police car. Decals on the hood give information warning about the monetary cost of getting a DUI. Durham County Assistant Chief Lee Russ says the 'franken-car' will be parked outside of nightlife spots. He hopes that people will think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking.

Defense attorneys have decided to present evidence during jury selection in the murder trial of Robert Stewart. He's accused of shooting and killing eight people two years ago at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Moore County. Stewart's attorneys say he was under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs at the time and is not legally responsible for his actions. Defense lawyers are showing potential jurors graphic images of the shootings and Stewart admitted this week during jury selection he killed the victims.

Federal investigators are looking into allegations of mistreatment at the Wake County jail. The North Carolina ACLU compiled 57 complaints in 2009 and 2010 from detainees accused of illegal immigration. Some say their rights to due process were violated. The ACLU claims that constitutes a violation of an immigration law called 287(g). It allows the federal government to enter into agreements with local law enforcement to carry out immigration functions. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison:

Major crimes, like homicides and robberies, are way down in Raleigh. The number of homicides fell from 35 two years ago to 14 in 2010.

City officials are crediting efforts in “community policing” in 2009 for the decrease. It involves increased foot patrols, juvenile programs, and specially-trained officers.

Another part of the community policing strategy is to increase enforcement of lesser crimes, like prostitution and drug offenses, before they lead to major crimes. Prostitution arrests rose from 64 in 2008 to 239 last year.

The driver of the tractor-trailer involved in yesterday's multi-vehicle crash on I-40 has been arrested on multiple charges. Three people died in the accident.

North Carolina's crime level has dropped to its lowest level since 1977.

John Edwards' indictment today marks the beginning of what may be a long courtroom battle over whether or not he violated campaign finance laws. Some North Carolinians who worked on his campaigns say regardless of the legal outcome, they still feel betrayed by the affair he conducted with his mistress when he was a presidential candidate in 2008. Linda Gunter is the President of Democratic Women of Wake County. 

Lawsuit Over Cuts for People with Disabilities

Jun 1, 2011

Starting today, people with disabilities who have been getting supported to live at home will start losing their services. That's why Disability Rights North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit to stop the state service cuts from going into effect. 

Disability Rights head Vicki Smith says the cuts affect about 4,000 people around the state who need help with only 2 activities of daily living - such toileting or bathing - to stay at home.  Smith says if the cuts happen, these people will be likely to end up in institutions if they don't have family members available to help

Copper Theft Increasing

May 31, 2011

The Public Works Commission of Fayetteville is reporting problems with thieves breaking into electric substations to steal copper wire. Spokeswoman Carol Justice-Hinson says they’ve had 12 break-ins since April.

Carol Justice-Hinson: "They’re cutting the fence and finding all kinds of creative ways to get in. This isn’t uncommon—I think what’s different right now is that we’ve had so many. For the last two months, its been one right after the other."

Attorney General Roy Cooper objects to the part of the North Carolina Senate's budget proposal that includes an overhaul of the State Bureau of Investigation. The spending plan released this week directs the SBI to move out from under the Attorney General's supervision. A cabinet-level secretary would oversee the bureau and the state crime lab. Some lawmakers have called for the move in light of more than 200 mishandled cases at the SBI's blood unit. Cooper says moving the SBI to another law enforcement agency would not satisfy critics.

A top aide to former Governor Mike Easley has been sentenced to a year in prison for failing to report a thirty thousand dollar profit on his taxes.

 U.S. District Court Judge Terence Boyle sentenced 39-year-old Ruffin Poole to 12 months in prison. He must also pay a thirty thousand dollar fine. Investigators found that Poole used his position as the former governor's aide to speed up the environmental permitting process at a new development in Carteret County.

Dozens of lawyers in North Carolina are taking their names off the list of court-appointed defense attorneys for low-income clients. The state Office of Indigent Services says it is cutting its compensation rate of 75 dollars an hour for defense attorneys. The Office's executive director says the current budget proposal leaves the department with a 12-million dollar shortfall. The department has not yet decided on a new rate of compensation. Attorney John Cox is one of about 15 lawyers from Alamance County who have submitted letters of resignation.

Two North Carolina men convicted of murder say there is new evidence that shows they are innocent. Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in connection with a shooting in Buncombe County more than 10 years ago. They appear before the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission today. That panel is responsible for last year's exoneration of Greg Taylor, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

The Fayetteville Police Department is changing its search policies in response to accusations of racial profiling. The department stopped and searched three times more black drivers than white ones last year. That concerned local activist groups, who want a review of the traffic stops. Lieutenant Chris Davis says Fayetteville Police are now requiring officers to give a detailed written reason for each search they conduct based on probable cause.

A bill in the North Carolina house would prohibit state employees from receiving retirement benefits if they are convicted of a felony. The measure would apply only to those who are convicted of a crime that took place while working for the state. The crime would also have to be directly related to the individual's office or employment. Republican Representative Julia Howard of Mocksville is one of the bill's sponsors. She says she and others hope a penalty would prevent some crimes from being committed:

Advocates: Raise The Age For Juvenile Offenders

Mar 16, 2011

Advocates for young people were at the legislature yesterday, pressing lawmakers on children's issues.  One issue for advocates is North Carolina's policy of charging 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. 

Brandy Bynum from Action for Children North Carolina says she hears from young people who get caught in the adult system for relatively minor offenses:

Methamphetamine labs are on the rise in North Carolina. That's according to state officials who say drug makers are finding new ways to produce it. The number of meth labs had dropped dramatically in 2007, when state lawmakers passed a bill limiting sales of decongestant medicines containing pseudoephedrine. That's a key ingredient in methamphetamine.

Attorney General Roy Cooper says meth producers are now making the drug in smaller batches to get around the law and avoid detection:

Fayetteville Police officers will receive training from the U.S. Justice Department about how to avoid racial profiling. That's according to city manager Dale Iman. He says he asked for help in response to concerns raised by local activist groups. Statistics from last year show police searched three times more black drivers than white ones in Fayetteville. The Justice Department says that trend holds across the country. Iman says he welcomes the training,  in addition to training from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. 

A group meeting in Durham today will focus on how to protect elderly people from abuse. The coalition is called Partners Eliminating Adult Victimization in Durham. It's one of a growing number of groups across the state. John Margolis is the Adult Protective Services Supervisor for Durham County and a co-chair of the group.

"The statute in North Carolina is more geared towards a disabled adult rather than an elder adult. And for Adult Protective Services to be involved with an elderly individual, there has to be some type of incapacity there."

Raymond Cook has been sentenced to 36 to 53 months for the death of Elena Shapiro. The former plastic surgeon was convicted today of felony death by vehicle.

The jury came back this morning with a unanimous decision on the lesser charge of felony death by vehicle. The prosecutor had been seeking a second-degree murder conviction in the 2009 accident in Raleigh. Cook was driving 75 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone and was also drunk at the time of the crash.

A Durham man has been taken off death row after a Superior Court judge commuted his sentence. Isaac Stroud had been sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend. But his attorneys argued mental illness should have disqualified him from a death sentence. The ruling means Stroud will instead spend life behind bars. Marilyn Ozer is an attorney who’s worked on the case since 2001. 

Wally Harrelson Dies

Feb 9, 2011

Former Guilford County Commissioner Wallace-or Wally-Harrelson has died. He was 74. Harrelson was the County's longtime Public Defender. Colleagues remember him as a mentor and a strong criminal defense lawyer. Howard Neumann, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, worked with Harrelson for 25 years:

"I don't know of anyone who has worked as hard for his clients as Mr. Harrelson did. He was a real, what we call, old-school lawyer. Did it the old fashion way."

Roy Cooper
governor.state.nc.us

People arrested for violent felonies and some misdemeanors dealing with sexual predators will have their DNA entered into the state’s database as part of a new law taking effect February 1st. Attorney General Roy Cooper has been outspoken supporter of the measure.

Pages