One Year in Jail For Truck Driver Who Blew By School Bus

An Apple Valley truck driver has been sentenced to one year in jail, with four months stayed for two years after video surfaced of him speeding by a school bus and narrowly missing a 13-year-old girl.

Allen Howard Morris, 48, was convicted of a gross misdemeanor after a dashcam caught him passing a school bus on the right hand side when its red flashers were displayed. In addition to the year in jail, Morris will have to:

  • Remain on probation for two years.
  • Pay a $1,000 fine.
  • Write an apology letter to the family of the girl he nearly hit.

Shocking Video

We actually covered this story when it first broke back in 2014. According to the police report, Morris was driving his semi behind a school bus on a two-lane section of Hwy 23 between New London and Paynesville when the bus put its flashers on and began to slow down as it approached a stop. Morris, who told officers that he was looking at a field and not paying attention to the road, said he looked back at the road and he realized he wouldn’t be able to stop in time , so he swerved to the right and blew past the bus at a high speed.

Thankfully he didn’t strike 13-year-old Alexis Schwartz, who was waiting to board the bus. Schwartz said after the incident that her “heart was pounding awfully fast and [her] hands were shaking because [she] was so scared to have it come up that close.”

You can see video of the near-accident below.



Despite his lack of awareness on the road, Morris did make the conscious decision to turn himself in after he learned that police were investigating the matter.

Now that March is here and the weather will start warming up, you’ll likely start seeing cars traveling faster on the roads. As speeds increase, so too does stopping time. Make sure you give school buses and emergency vehicles plenty of room in the event they have to make a unexpected stop. Also, if you think you’re up to par on Minnesota’s school bus stop arm laws, test your knowledge with our quiz!

Related source: Pioneer Press.

Can I get into Canada with a DUI?

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but sometimes avid fishermen want to head north of the border to check out the fishing holes in Canada. Fishing in Canada can be a lot of fun, but crossing the border can be difficult if you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence.

You’ve probably heard the rumor that you can’t get into Canada with a DUI, but that’s not true. That said, if you’ve been convicted of a DUI, you can’t just waltz across the border. According to the Canadian government, there’s two ways you can get into Canada with a DUI:

  • If you’ve been convicted of a DUI within the past five years, you’ll want to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa. This will allow you to enter Canada for no longer than six months.
  • If the DUI occurred more than five years ago, the best way to get into Canada is to apply for a rehabilitation permit. Once you fill out the rehabilitation application, you’ll need to mail it in along with $200 (Canadian). Assuming everything is in order, you’ll be granted admittance into Canada.

Plan Ahead

It might seem like a pain to apply for admittance, but Canadian authorities are well within their rights to deny entrance into the country if you’ve been convicted of a DUI. In fact, denial of admittance isn’t just limited to DUIs. You can be denied entrance in Canada if you have any serious criminal conviction, or if you lie about a past conviction.

Additionally, if you’ve been convicted of a DUI, you’ll need to apply for temporary residency or a rehabilitation permit even if you don’t plan on driving. Border patrol has turned away guests on the Victoria Ferry who have obtained a one-day sightseeing pass because they failed to secure a residency or rehabilitation permit. The same idea applies if you’re a passenger in a car. Even if you don’t plan on driving, that DUI can come back to haunt you if you don’t obtain the right permits.

The Link Between Depression and Violent Crime

Just this week we wrote that even though arrests are down, our jail cells are still filing up. The problem is that many of these repeat offenders aren’t getting the mental health help they need. Instead, they are simply thrown in jail and left to their own devices once they’ve served their sentence. The legal system is not addressing the problem.

Today, we’ve learned of a new study that links mental health issues to increases in violent crime. According to a study by researchers at Oxford University, individuals diagnosed with depression are about three times more likely than the general population to commit a violent offense.

Researchers came to that conclusion after examining a group of roughly 47,000 depressed people and almost 900,000 non-diagnosed individuals over the course of three years. They found that clinically depressed individuals had a higher risk of self harm and harm to others.

While depressed individuals may be three times as likely to commit a violent offense than the average person, researchers emphasized that the vast majority of clinically depressed individuals have not been convicted of a crime, nor will they.

“One important finding was that the vast majority of depressed persons were not convicted of violent crimes, and that the rates … are below those for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and considerably lower than for alcohol or drug abuse,” said Seena Fazel, who led the study at Oxford University’s psychiatry department.

According to the study, crimes more often committed by depressed individuals than the general population include:

  • Robbery
  • Sexual offenses
  • Assault

Depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide, yet we’re still hesitant to talk openly about the disease. Far too often we punish violent offenders for the crime instead of pairing punishment with mental health evaluations and treatments. Without treatment, recidivism is likely.

Fazel said many people want to ensure depressed individuals don’t self harm or commit suicide, but little attention is given to their likelihood of lashing out at others. He hopes to conduct future studies on why depressed individuals are more likely to commit a violent offense.

“Is it about not being able to think through things, not being able to make judgments about risk? Is it irritability? Impulsiveness?” he said. “If we can get more of a handle on that, it could really help treat these people.”

Related source: Fox News

How Police Get You To Confess To A Crime You Didn’t Commit

You’ve all seen the way Hollywood portrays interrogations on television. A dark room, spotlight on the accused, maybe a little good cop-bad cop action. Now, that’s not exactly how interrogations go down in the real world, but police officers are very good at getting people to admit to things or to implicate themselves during these sessions. Don’t think you’d crack under the pressure? Check out this study out of the United Kingdom that may prove otherwise.

According to the study, by using a combination of misinformation, encouragement and three hours of discussion, 70 percent of people admitted to a crime they didn’t commit. More interestingly, not only did the participants admit to a crime they didn’t commit, they claimed to recall full-blown, detailed experiences from events that never occurred.

False Confession Study

Concocting a false confession is no easy task. Researchers in this study tried to get college-aged students to cop to a crime they didn’t commit by sprinkling the truth into a false narrative. For example, the team of scientists did a little background research on their subjects prior to questioning in order to learn some facts about the participants. Surprisingly, the only facts they learned about the participants were the name of their best friend and where they grew up. Also, for the sake of transparency, it’s worth noting that police obtained these details from a parent or guardian, not the participants.

Once researchers had a few details, they went to work on the participants. The teams conducted three 45-minute interviews with the students, during which the participants shared details about a true experience, and heard a tale from the interviewer about a fabricated event, which had true details sprinkled in (like their best friend’s name or the town they grew up in).

After nearly three hours of feeding the students the verified information, the interviewer created a fabricated event to suggest that the student had committed a crime in the past. After being told so many true details, many of the students believed that they had in fact were criminals, even though the event never occurred. One student even told the interviewers what weapon she used, what started the fight and what she was eating for dinner the night the cops came to her door, even though nothing like that ever took place.

In the end, 70 percent of the non-criminals copped to criminal acts. Lead researcher Julia Shaw said the results were “definitely unexpected.” Shaw originally suspected her team could convince about 1 in 3 students to falsely confess.

Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, says memory is a lot like a Wikipedia page. Memories can be altered or edited depending on the narrative being fed, and once your brain believes it to be true, your mind fills in any gaps to complete the story.

“When the patchwork of memory gets stitched together and internalized, truth and fiction become indistinguishable,” said Loftus.

That’s why it’s so important that you express your right to remain silent and to retain legal counsel. If you don’t, you might end up copping to a crime you didn’t commit.

Related source: NPR

Crime Rates Fall, But Jails Still Filling Up

Although crime rates have declined significantly over the past few decades, admissions to local jails have almost doubled over the last 30 years, a clear sign that the current system isn’t working.

According to a report from the Vera Institute of Justice, local jails in the United States are grossly misused. Local jails are designed to hold individuals who have yet to be convicted of a crime but who have been deemed a flight risk or too dangerous to be out in public. Instead, the Institute says local jails are becoming prisons for the poor and mentally fragile.

The report suggests that 60 percent of those jailed are too poor to pay the minimum bail required for even minor crimes. Oftentimes these offenders are charged with crimes like drug, traffic or public order defenses, and they typically are plagued by one or more social problems, like substance abuse, poverty, homelessness or mental illness.

The Vera Institute Report believes the current system isn’t helping fix the real problem of mental illness.

“The consequences are corrosive and costly for everyone because no matter how disadvantaged people are when they enter jail, they are likely to emerge with their lives further destabilized and, therefore, less able to be healthy, contributing members of society.”

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek believes almost one-third of the 37,000 people Minnesota locks up every year have a serious mental illness.

“Obviously, jail isn’t the best place for treating mental disorders,” said Stanek.

Repeat Offenders

More lockup statistics from larger cities show that jail is often a revolving door for many inmates. A five-year study in Chicago found that 20 percent of inmates filled up half the jail cells, while during the same period in New York, 473 individuals were arrested 18 or more times. Researchers believe these repeat offenders continue to cycle back into jail because the legal system focuses on punishing the crime, not helping the perpetrator break the pattern.

“Punishing the criminal act is important, but there also needs to be intervention techniques to prevent it from happening in the future. Simply hoping that the prospect of lockup will deter a mentally unstable person from committing an act is unreasonable,” said criminal defense attorney Avery Appelman. “I liken it to the process of raising a child. For example, when a child acts out, you place them in timeout or withhold dessert, but you also explain why their behavior was wrong. Punishment needs to be paired with a teaching moment.”

Minnesota recently added a new law that said mentally ill inmates who have been charged with a crime can’t be held for more than 48 hours, but they oftentimes have nowhere to go upon release. Sen. Barb Goodwin said there are more than 500 psychiatric crisis centers across the United States that offer diversionary help in lieu of a jail cell, but none are located in Minnesota. Because of this, many mentally ill offenders end up homeless on the streets. To combat this problem, Se. Goodwin has proposed  SF 141, which would offer grants to counties interested in building division programs.

Related source: Star-Tribune

Police Shootings Could Be Added To MN Emergency Alerts

When a child goes missing in Minnesota, the state’s Amber Alert system broadcasts the alert to Minnesotans across the state. A similar alert could soon be in place when police officers are killed or seriously wounded.

A Minnesota House Panel is pushing for advanced legislation that would add officer-involved shootings to the statewide alert system. The new system, sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, would be called the Blue Alert. Cornish served as a law enforcement officer prior to chairing the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. He argued that the Blue Alert system would keep civilians safe and would help track down suspects.

“Many times after the assault has taken place, or the death, these people escape in a vehicle,” Cornish said. “So this system would really be helpful in apprehension, a quicker apprehension before these people get out into the general public and do more damage.”

The bill comes on the heels of the of the high-profile killing of officer Scott Patrick by suspect Brian Fitch. Fitch drove away after shooting and killing Patrick during a routine traffic stop. Thankfully, anonymous tipsters alerted police to Fitch’s whereabouts later in the day, and police were able to take him into custody, but not before the two sides again exchanged gunfire.

How Blue Alert Would Work

Under the new proposal, the Blue Alert would be very similar to the current Amber Alert system. The Blue Alert would be transmitted through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network and the Emergency Alert system. Both public and commercial broadcasters would take part in sharing the alert.

Rep. Dan Schoen, an active police officer and supporter of the bill, said the Blue Alert proposal would expedite the spread of information, which is vital in instances where a suspect is a serious threat to public safety.

“We want people looking out their windows,” Schoen said. “We want people looking at each other when they’re going down the interstate, and we need the public to be a part of that.”

The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee unanimously supported the proposal. The bill now moves to the House Transportation Committee.

Related source: MPR News

New Jersey Police Don’t Buy “Black Ice” DUI Excuse

Two New Jersey men thought they could fool police by creating a fake scene to get out of a DUI.

According to the police report, Brian Byers, 20, tried to drive home this weekend after consuming a few too many beers. Police say Byers blew through a stop sign, hit a guard rail and then fled the scene. But, like far too many criminals before him, Byers returned to the scene of the crime to clean up his mess.

This time though he had 20-year-old Alexander Zambenedetti in tow. The pair of 20 year olds each came equipped with a five gallon bucket filled with water. They dumped the water around the crash scene to make it look like black ice, not an inebriated driver, was the reason the car went off the road.

Not surprisingly, the police weren’t buying Byers’ story.

“I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve been here 21 years,” said Sgt. John Lamon of the Sparta Police Department.

Sgt. Dennis Procter added that it was pretty easy to determine that the boys were lying about what transpired.

“You could actually see the skid marks underneath the water they had just put there, so we knew that they had dumped this water over the top of where he lost control of the vehicle rather than the vehicle losing control on the ice itself,” said Proctor.

Proctor noted that Byers eventually confessed to the water-logged plan.

“The original driver of the first vehicle that crashed and left the scene made an admission that … their intent was to blame it on the ice so they could collect insurance for the vehicle, for the damage to the vehicle.”

Byers was charged with Driving While Intoxicated, fleeing the scene of an accident and disorderly conduct for creating a dangerous condition by purposefully icing the roads. Zambenedetti, who dove Byers back to the scene of the crash, also failed a field sobriety test. He too was arrested for DWI.

Related source: CBS2, People, 1010 WINS,

Minnesotans Set a Safe Driving Record in January

January was one of the safest months on Minnesota roads in more than 20 years, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

According to collision data, nine individuals lost their lives in automobile accidents in Minnesota during the month of January. The previous low for traffic deaths in the month of January was 15, set in 2011. Traffic fatality data dates back to 1984.

Despite the encouraging numbers, OTS Director Donna Berger said the number is still too high.

“While it is important to highlight the decline in traffic deaths across Minnesota, we must not forget that statistics equal real people and at least nine families said good-bye to loved ones in January,” said Berger.

As you can see by the data below, Minnesota has been making great strides in recent years to reduce traffic deaths in a month that’s typically plagued by poor driving conditions.

Lowest January Totals Since 1984

  • January 2015 – 9
  • January 2011 – 15
  • January 2013 – 16
  • January 1991 – 16

Why The Decline?

Although it’s difficult to determine exactly why the number of traffic fatalities in January were so low in 2015, it’s easy to make some educated guesses. First is the increased efforts to get drivers to buckle up and ensure they never drive drunk. Minnesota police have been very vocal about their “Click It or Ticket” and “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaigns, and they’ve also announced numerous heightened patrol weekends during holidays in an effort to curb drunk driving.

Some crashes are harder to prevent than others, but Lt. Tiffani Nielson said drivers need to continue to make smart decisions behind the wheel.

“The vast majority of crashes are preventable,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson, Minnesota State Patrol. “We encourage all motorists to drive to the conditions of the road, wear your seat belt, pay attention and never drink and drive.”

The traffic report from the Office of Traffic Safety also listed the most common contributing factors in fatal accidents. The OTS found:

  • Speeding played a role in one in five deaths.
  • A drunk driver was involved in one in five deaths.
  • Distracted driving was a factor one in four fatalities.
  • About half of the motorists killed in auto accidents were not wearing a seat belt.

Related source: Minnesota DPS OTS

Preliminary Hearing Scheduled in Slender Man Stabbing

Two Wisconsin teens accused of stabbing a classmate to appease a fictional horror character will find out this week if they’ll be tried on attempted homicide charges.

The “Slender Man” case has garnered national attention for its absurdity and for the ages of those involved. Prosecutors allege that the two Waukesha girls planned to kill another girl in hopes of gaining favor with a fictional character known as Slender Man.

For those of you not up to date on your internet-born fantastical horror entities, Slender Man “came to life” as part of an online contest where users used their photoshop skills to create images that appeared to capture supernatural events on film. Eric Knudson edited a few photos to show a a tall, faceless stranger in the background, and he accompanied the images with text that made it look like the creature was associated with the disappearance of children. The fictional character eventually went viral, and people from all over the web created fan-fiction stories to help the legend of Slender Man grow.

The problem, though, is that the two 12-year-olds at the center of the case had a difficult time separating reality from fantasy. Prosecutors allege they lured another 12-year-girl into a park and stabbed her 19 times. Amazingly, the after the pair left the 12-year-old to die, she was able to crawl to a sidewalk and flag down a passing bicyclist. The biker called 911, and paramedics were able to save the girl’s life. She was released form the hospital a little over one week after the attack.

As you might guess, questions about the girls’ mental state arose. After hearing from mental health experts, a judge ruled that both girls were competent enough to stand trial. Now that competence has been established, a judge will rule if there’s enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

Based on the preliminary evidence, it seems likely that the court will move forward with a trial. Prosecutors are pursuing first-degree attempted homicide charges against the girls, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.

The Importance of Pre-Trial

As we mentioned, it seems likely that the case will head to trial, but the pre-trial proceedings are actually a pivotal part of a defense attorney’s strategy. Criminal defense attorneys use this time to determine how the prosecution plans to attack their defendant’s credibility.

Avery Appelman, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, said pre-trial hearings allow lawyers to get in the mind of their opposition.

“If you have a sense of how the other side is going to attack your defendant, you can begin to plan a better defensive strategy,” said Appelman. “Additionally, if a prosecution’s witness says something during pre-trial that you can use to strengthen your case, you can ensure you have a line of questions ready for cross examination.”

We’ll keep tabs on the Slender Man case as it moves forward.

Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Implied Consent Law

The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the state’s Implied Consent law on Wednesday, effectively saying that as long as the ends justify the means, bypassing forth amendment protections is perfectly acceptable.

Implied Consent, the law at the center of the case, says that drivers must submit to field testing and a breathalyzer if they are suspected of driving under the influence, even if there is no warrant. Proponents of this law continue to champion driving as a privilege, and thus argue that citizens must acquiesce to the whims of law enforcement even without the presence of a warrant. They say things like “Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then why should it even matter?” and “Only guilty people would refuse,” but they are missing the larger picture. Our constitution protects us from unreasonable and warrantless searches, so no justification of your refusal should be needed. If the officer really wants to search you, and he has probable cause, then it should be no trouble to get a warrant and conduct a legal search.

The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, demonstrates a frightful line of thinking, especially for a person in her position of power.

“It is rational to conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a breath test relates to the State’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,” she wrote. “We therefore hold that the test refusal statute is a reasonable means to a permissive object and that it passes rational basis review.”

In other words, criminalizing a citizen’s right to execute fourth amendment protections granted by our Constitution is fine because it makes the world a safer place.

You know what else would make the world a safer place? Instituting a 7 pm curfew. Most crimes happen at night, right? Or how about we institute the death penalty for anybody caught going over the speed limit? I’m all but certain we’d see a huge drop in traffic violations. That would make the world a safer place, wouldn’t it?

The rational used by Justice Gildea is exactly the line of thinking Ben Franklin cautioned against when he said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Dissenting Opinion

Although the majority opinion won out, Justices Alan Page and David Stras wrote a harsh criticism of the ruling. Justices Page and Stras said biological material inside a person’s body should not be applicable to the warrantless search exemption.

“The Supreme Court has never implied, much less stated, that the search-incident-to-arrest exception extends to the forcible removal of substances from within a person’s body,” they wrote. “In the end, the court ultimately arrives at a decision that is as notable for its disregard of Supreme Court precedent as it is for its defective logic.”

Related source: Grand Forks Herald

by Appelman Law Firm