News Roundup – North Carolina Criminal Law

Raleigh police are offering rewards for information leading to suspects in two unsolved hit and run cases from late last year, according to this piece. One of the incidents occurred near New Bern Avenue and South Raleigh Boulevard in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 2023. The suspect in that case was driving a gray Dodge Charger. The other involved a pickup truck of an unknown make and model and occurred on Poole Road on the evening of December 16, 2023. The pickup sustained damage to its right headline (or ceiling cover). Both cases resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Raliegh police also intend to pass out flyers to local drivers soliciting information on the crimes. The reward amounts are not mentioned, but anyone with information can contact the Raleigh Police Department or Raleigh Crimestoppers. Read on for more criminal law news.

Informant Charged with False Statements in Biden Investigation. Reuters reports that the special counsel tasked with investigating potential criminal activity by Hunter Biden and President Joe Biden has brought charges against a former FBI informant for making false statements to investigators and for creating false records in the case. The false statements claimed that the President and his son received millions of dollars from the Ukrainian company Burisma to help the company resolve a pending criminal investigation against it, among other false allegations of influence peddling. The man potentially faces decades in prison if convicted.

Semiconductor Conspiracy. Vice reports that a Canadian Instagram influencer pleaded guilty this month to participating in a money laundering conspiracy aimed at helping Russia obtain U.S.-manufactured semiconductors in violation of U.S. sanctions. The woman and her co-conspirators set up multiple fake companies to purchase U.S. electronics valued at more than $7 million dollars, which were then surreptitiously shipped to Russia. Many of the electronic components made their way into Russian weapons and other military equipment, aiding the country’s war effort against Ukraine. For the nearly three hundred illegal shipments and related efforts to cover up the profits from the transactions, the woman faces up to 20 years imprisonment. A press report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York has more details, here.

Final Assange Extradition Effort? AP News writes that Julian Assange is facing what may be his final effort to avoid extradition from the United Kingdom to the U.S. Assange is one of the founders of the media organization WikiLeaks and has long evaded trial on multiple charges of espionage relating to his company’s publication of classified military information during the U.S wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nearly 15 years ago. That information revealed misconduct by the military and its contractors (among other things) and is considered one of the biggest leaks of classified information in history. Advocates for Assange believe the prosecution is political retribution for his role in exposing military wrongdoing and exercising freedom of the press. To his detractors, Assange recklessly leaked massive volumes of confidential military secrets, putting both human lives and national security at risk in the process. A decision from the U.K. High Court is expected within a few weeks. While this appeal is the last step in the British extradition process, an additional appeal to the European Court of Human Rights remains a possibility in the event of an adverse ruling for Assange.

Former Honduran President on Trial in the U.S. The former president of the Central American country is on trial in New York on federal charges relating to his alleged leadership role in a drug trafficking conspiracy, possession of machine guns, and other offenses. The defendant was long considered a U.S. ally in the fight against the flow of illegal drugs and migrants across the border. Prosecutors allege that he secretly ran Honduras as a “narco-state,” permitting drug cartels to freely operate within the country and collecting millions in the process. Among his co-defendants is the former chief of national police of Honduras, who already pled guilty in connection with the charges. The former president denies wrongdoing. The AP has the story here.

Out of Service. An Oklahoma judge resigned this month prior to her disciplinary hearing on charges stemming in part from her misconduct during a trial. While presiding over a child homicide case, the judge sent more than 500 texts to a courtroom bailiff, including during witness testimony and other critical stages of the trial. The texts involved personal jabs at the prosecutor, cheers for the defense attorney, and criticism of the State’s main witness. The extensive time spent on her cell phone during the trial was captured on courtroom security cameras. As a part of her settlement with state judicial oversight authorities, the judge agreed to refrain from holding judicial office in the future. The story is here. (Jeff Welty previously covered this story when the accusations initially broke back in October 2023.)

Radio Silence. A local AM radio station in Jasper, Alabama, discovered its 200-foot radio tower and other broadcasting equipment stored nearby was missing earlier this month, according to this report. The station is run by a second-generation operator and has been broadcasting locally since the 1950s. The thieves apparently cut the tower support wires to bring it down and then divvied up the metal structure into smaller, transportable pieces. The equipment was uninsured, and the station manager estimates that the cost of replacing the missing equipment will be somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $100,000. A GoFundMe page has been created to assist the station in mitigating its loss.

BBQ Pit Theft Leads to Homicide. The News and Observer reports that a Texas man discovered someone had stolen his barbeque pit, managed to catch up to the alleged thief nearby, and fatally shot the man in the ensuing confrontation. The Harris County man claims that he believed the decedent was armed and that the shooting was in self-defense. He is not currently facing charges in connection with the shooting, although law enforcement has stated their intent to submit the matter to a grand jury once they have completed the investigation.

(As an aside, Texans may take their beef seriously, but many North Carolinians would object to categorizing it as BBQ.)

Caution: Acorns Fired. A Florida deputy resigned after mistaking the sound of an acorn falling and hitting his patrol car for gunshots and returning fire. After taking a handcuffed suspect into custody in the back of his patrol car, the deputy heard a loud “pop” and believed he had been struck by gunfire. Thinking the sound was a gun being fired by the suspect, the deputy emptied his clip towards the arrestee in the patrol car. His partner, believing a shootout was taking place, also fired multiple times towards the car. The suspect inside was physically unharmed, if more than a little shaken by the incident. An investigation determined that the deputy acted unreasonably. He had been with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department since 2022. The deputy’s partner was cleared of misconduct, and neither officer will face criminal charges stemming from the incident. More details can be found in the internal affairs investigative report, here.

I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing weekend. Reach out with questions or comments at dixon@sog.unc.edu.

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