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Murder Appeal Raises Confederate Flag Issue:  Nathan Koppel and Ashby Jones of The Wall Street Journal have this story on a capital murder appeal currently before the Louisiana Supreme Court, in which a convicted murderer is challenging the prejudicial effect of a Confederate flag outside the trial courthouse.  Felton Dorsey, an African American, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Joe Prock, a white firefighter, during a robbery of Prock's mother's home.  Dorsey's attorneys claim the conviction should be overturned because, among other claims of error, the Confederate flag that has been flown outside the Shreveport courthouse since 1961 was a source of racial discrimination in the case, especially after a prospective black juror was excused after expressing his concerns about it.  The Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office denied in its brief that the prosecution discriminated against Dorsey during jury selection, but did not address arguments related to the flag.

Court Appearances by Camera Saving Big:  Pretrial video court appearances in criminal cases are more proving more convenient for defendants and are saving the states up to $30 million in transportation costs, reports Colleen Long of the AP.  A typical system includes a webcam or video camera in a detention center that allows a defendant to "appear" via a secure internet connection.  The practice has gathered support so far from judges and civil liberties groups, though some attorneys have expressed concerns with the idea of video appearances during trials.  "The technology is really exploding.  It's gotten much cheaper and easier to run, and states are reporting a huge range of savings," said Jim McMillan of the National Center for State Courts, which recently studied the use of video in U.S. courts.

California to Expand Familial DNA Testing:  California Attorney General Kamala Harris has increased the state budget to double the number of familial DNA searches, reports Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times.  The state first began using the technique in 2008 in a limited category of cases, but application may expand after its early success, including the identification and arrest of the alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer.  California, Virginia, and Colorado are currently the only states that allow familial searching.

Michigan Lawmaker Calls for Revised Inmate DNA Law:  The AP reports Michigan state Senator Mike Kowall (R) is supporting revision of the state's inmate DNA collection law that he drafted ten years ago.  Prison officials and the state Attorney General's Office believe that under the current law, they are only allowed to collect a sample just before the inmate is released.  Kowall claims inmate DNA collection should not be so limited, and prosecutors around Michigan were shocked and frustrated to learn of the prisons' practices.  The law doesn't affect most prisoners because counties generally take DNA samples before convicts are sent to prison, but about 6,000 current prisoners who are refusing to provide samples were in prison before counties began such a practice.

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