Commentary

The following post appeared earlier today on the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog.

Reasonable doubt: N.C. says 900 convictions based on bad evidence

By Kristin Collins

This week, buried in a Charlotte Observer editorial, was a surprising admission: The N.C. Commission on Actual Innocence is reexamining 900 convictions in which the State Bureau of Investigation may have used unreliable forensic evidence.

In all these cases, the SBI used hair analysis to prove the defendant’s guilt. In most cases, that means analysts used a microscope to compare hairs found at the crime scene with the defendant’s hair, and said they matched up. This technique was used in North Carolina until DNA testing of hair became available, around 2003. We don’t know how many of the 900 are death penalty cases.

We now know that this kind of forensic “science” is junk. Subjective forensic evidence, such as hair comparisons and bite mark comparisons, have been a contributing factor in more than a quarter of the 329 DNA-exoneration cases in the U.S. since 1989.

Last week, the FBI admitted that it has overstated the reliability of hair analysis in virtually every case where hair evidence was presented, including 36 cases where defendants were sentenced to death.

Only three of the cases the FBI identified were in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a big problem.

Guess where North Carolina’s SBI learned its hair analysis techniques? From the FBI.

We already know bad hair analysis has contributed to one wrongful conviction in North Carolina: that of Joseph Sledge, who was recently exonerated after 36 years in prison. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

A new report commissioned by Think NC First and written by John Quinterno gives a new moniker to the official recovery that began in 2009: incomeless.  Add that to the “jobless” and “uneven” labels that the recovery has earned to date and the reality for us all begins to look not at all like recovery.  The report takes a thorough look at income in North Carolina and finds that the trends are “running in reverse.”  Among the findings:

  • From 2007 to 2013, the inflation-adjusted income of the median North Carolina household dropped by more than 8%. Median income fell by 5.5% from 2007 to 2009 and by another 3.2% during the recovery that started in 2009 through 2013.
  • From 2009 to 2013, real average household income fell or remained unchanged for every household income group in North Carolina except for the top 5%.
  • The distribution of household income in North Carolina has grown more unequal since 2007, and the distribution of income in North Carolina in 2013 was more unequal than in the nation as a whole.
  • The annual earnings of the median worker (ages 16+) fell by 7.4% between 2007 and 2013.
  • Real median household income in North Carolina was effectively no different in 2013 than in 1984.

As Quinterno points out, the lack of jobs and other labor market conditions have put downward pressure on wages but policy choices have made worse these wage outcomes.

Allowing inflation to erode the value of the minimum wage, refusing to enforce and to modernize labor laws, undercutting the effectiveness of the unemployment insurance system, making work more costly by repealing the state earned income tax credit, and enacting tax policies that fail to boost growth yet drain needed public revenues—these choices have tamped down wages and incomes.
Be sure to check out the full report here.
Commentary

(This post has been updated) The House Health Committee just passed a new anti-abortion bill this morning. The revised House Bill 465, which was unveiled just minutes before the meeting this morning (the current version isn’t even available online yet), includes a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking this particular health procedure. Only two other states have such an an onerous requirement. Pro-choice advocates at NARAL Pro-Choice NC, who were completely denied an opportunity even to be heard this morning during the 45 minute meeting, issued the following statement:

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Statement: H.B. 465 in NO Way Helps Women

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina opposes House Bill 465 because it will not help women. The bill’s 72-hour abortion waiting period regulation is medically unnecessary. We are disappointed that at today’s House Health Committee meeting, only one pro-choice speaker was allowed to be heard. We brought a number of physicians and medical professionals prepared to speak to the problems with this bill and their information was never allowed to reach House Committee members.

H.B. 465 would make it harder for women, who have made a choice about their own body, by making them wait 72 hours, instead of the current 24 hour period, between asking for an abortion and being legally permitted to get one. Mandatory delay laws such as these would endanger women’s health and create additional burdens for North Carolina women, especially women in rural areas who often have to travel for many hours to reach a health-care provider, and for women who do not have the resources to take extra time off work or to pay for child-care. According to a study conducted in Texas, on average women travel 42 miles to visit their nearest clinic (although some women had to travel up to 400 miles) and incur an average of $146 in costs to the additional waiting period. These restrictions have a disproportional impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women. Women who want to get abortions but are denied are three times more likely to fall into poverty than those who can get an abortion, according to recent studies.

The study also showed that waiting periods do not do anything to sway women’s decisions about terminating a pregnancy, but are simply emotional manipulation tactics to shame women and make them feel guilty about making decisions about their own bodies. One third of the participants in the study said the waiting period negatively affected their well-being. Read More

Commentary

Coal ash spillWe humans have a way of ignoring unpleasant facts as long as we can keep them out of sight — especially when paying attention would require us to change (and maybe even sacrifice some small measure of convenience or habit). That’s why the stories in newspapers across the state this morning (Earth Day morning) about Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution and its increasingly destructive impact on our health and well-being are so important. As the Charlotte Observer reports:

“Most of the private wells tested near Duke Energy’s North Carolina coal ash ponds show contaminants above state groundwater standards, state regulators said Tuesday.

Of 117 test results mailed to power plant neighbors in recent days, 87 exceeded groundwater standards, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.”

In other words, there it is once again: concrete evidence that we are, increasingly, burying ourselves in our own effluent and jeopardizing human health and survival prospects in our blind and foolish refusal to quickly and radically alter our use of fossil fuels.

As Joe Romm pointed out on Think Progress  yesterday in a provocative Earth Day critique, this helps highlight one of the problems with the typical environmental protection messaging (including that of the Obama administration’s) on the subject: the message that moves people isn’t the threat to “mother Earth”; it’s the one about the threat to human survival: Read More

News

The NC House gave unanimous approval Tuesday to legislation that would study the idea of fixed tuition in the University of North Carolina system. Under the bill proposed by Wilkes County Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, the UNC Board of Governors would study the idea of guaranteeing undergraduates a set price for four-years of their college education.

Elmore told his colleagues the idea is to help address the rising costs of higher education. He notes that over the past 30 years, tuition and fees have increased 225% at public four-year universities across the United States.

House Bill 657 would have the Board of Governors fully examine the idea and report back to the legislature in February. Currently more than 300 colleges and universities offer a fixed tuition program.

The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration. To hear Rep. Elmore explain the bill in his own words, click below:

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