Thanksgiving DUI

Stay Safe on Blackout Wednesday, Thanksgiving Weekend

Statistics show that the following stretch of days, from blackout Wednesday through the Sunday night, are the most dangerous days on Minnesota roads.

According to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, drivers are more likely to end up in a ditch or in a fender bender in this five-day stretch than any other period of the year.

As we mentioned in a previous post, distracted driving and drunk driving are two big reasons for the spike in crashes. Distracted driving caused 564 crashes between 1,436 cars during the five-day stretch last year. Thankfully, since people are generally traveling at slower speeds during the winter, there are less fatalities per accident than in the summer.

“There may be more ‘fender benders’ in colder, winter weather, but there are also less traffic fatalities,” said David Boxum, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

If you’re traveling tonight, take it nice and slow. It’s expected to snow until 3pm in the Twin Cities metro area, meaning the roads are going to be rough no matter if you try to drive through the snow to beat traffic, or you wait out the snow and hit rush hour.

Blackout Wednesday

If you’re on Twitter tonight, don’t be surprised if you see #BlackoutWednesday or #BadDecisionWednesday trending in your area. Thanksgiving Eve is commonly a day when friends and family are back in their hometown for holiday festivities, and many reconnect with one another over a few beverages.

Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Erik Roeske said he wants people to have a good time, but it’s important they make good decisions to get back from the bar safely.

“While we want people to enjoy that time with their friends and loved ones, we want them to make smart decisions for a safe and sober ride home,” said Roeske.

It should come as no surprise that the Minnesota police are adding extra DUI patrols tonight and through the weekend. Last year drunk drivers caused 32 accidents over the Thanksgiving weekend, and over 1,600 Minnesotans were arrested for driving under the influence during the holiday over the last three years. That means one person is arrested for drunk driving every 13 minutes over the 5-day Thanksgiving stretch. Be safe, and have a great holiday!

Related source: Star-Tribune

Ferguson

Ferguson: Grand Jury Decides Not To Indict Darren Wilson

A St. Louis County grand jury ruled that there was not enough evidence to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the wake of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The decision, read late Monday night, means that the jury of 12 did not find enough evidence to bring charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or armed criminal action against Wilson. A 75 percent ruling is necessary in Missouri to proceed with criminal charges, meaning nine out of 12 jury members needed to believe their was enough evidence to proceed with charges. In all, the jury met 25 times, heard from 60 witnesses, three medical examiners and listened to 70 hours of testimony.

As expected, the decision was met with some furor. Riots broke out in Ferguson as President Barack Obama urged citizens to express their opinions peacefully. The video is truly a sight to see.

 

The rioting lasted through the night, and reports indicate that at least 12 businesses were set ablaze. 61 people were arrested, and thankfully, nobody was seriously injured.

Examining the Evidence

Without a doubt, the events in Ferguson are going to stick with Americans for a long time. Tensions are running high, and we’re not going to get up on a soapbox and preach one way or another. Instead, just like in the court of law, we want to facilitate the spread of information and evidence so citizens can stay informed about what just happened.

Here is a comprehensive list of the information presented to the grand jury. Included in this list is the grand jury testimony, witness statements, forensic reports, police interviews and much much more. Seek out coverage of the aftermath from news sites and learn why some feel justice was served while others feel like the truth has remained hidden. If you want to peacefully demonstrate your disagreement with the decision, gatherings have been planned in the Twin Cities throughout the day.

We will continue with our Ferguson coverage if any new developments take place.

Nurse Assaults

Minnesota Wants To Increase Penalties For Attacks on Nurses

Minnesota legislators are looking to increase the penalties against out-of-control patients in the wake of a growing number of assaults on healthcare practitioners.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights wants to see the law re-written to hold assailants accountable to the same level as if they had attacked a peace or police officer.

“There should be the same protections and pen­al­ties for at­tack­ing a nurse as there are for at­tack­ing other public safe­ty of­fi­cials,” Atkins said.

Under the current law, those who assault a nurse or healthcare professional are subject to a two-year jail sentence and fines up to $4,000. Rep. Atkins wants to increase those penalties to match assaults on police officers, which carry potential sentences of three years in jail and a $6,000 fine.

While Atkins wants to increase penalties for those who harm nurses, others fear that those with mental disorders might face stiffer penalties for acting out in a state of confusion. For example, a delusional elderly patient at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood recently attacked and injured four nurses with a metal bar. The resident died as officers attempted to restrain him, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center said he didn’t think increased penalties would have prevented the incident.

“I don’t see how that would be a big de­ter­rent, how that would keep some­one from com­mit­ting a crime like that,” Cornish said.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, agreed with Rep. Cornish.

“I don’t think a blanket change like that is going to be effective,” Abderholden said. “We could end up criminalizing people … who were not really aware of what they were doing.”

Big Spike

Despite Cornish’s indifference, it’s clear that physical assaults on healthcare professionals are a growing concern. An analysis of workers’ compensation and injury logs show that the healthcare industry is becoming a dangerous place for workers. State nurses have already filed 46 claims for injuries suffered while on duty, a pace that’s set to double the claims filed in 2012 and 2013.

Assaults on nurses is a national problem as well. A 2011 study found that more than 400,000 nurses and other healthcare professionals are a victim of workplace violence every year. The survey also revealed that one in every four nurses lists physical assault as a top safety concern.

Related source: Star-Tribune

DUI offenses in Minnesota

Minnesota Courts Helping Prevent Repeat DUI Offenses

A study by a national research firm uncovered that in Minnesota DWI courts, deterrent programs and treatment regimens are helping prevent repeat DUI offenses, saving the taxpayers about $700,000 a year.

The study examined the DWI court system in nine counties who attempted to lessen the number of repeat DUI offenders by combining drug and alcohol treatment with other punishments like jail, fines and loss of driving privileges. Researchers found that in eight of nine counties, offenders who completed their court-mandated treatment programs were much less likely to reoffend than those who didn’t complete the program. The study also revealed that most counties with DWI courts spent less money on law enforcement and jail costs.

“If people are getting arrested — even a little less often — and if they’re getting re-arrested for less-serious crimes, then they’re spending a lot less time in jail,” said Shannon Carey, executive vice president and research associate at Portland, Oregon-based NPC Research.

The research also uncovered some shortcomings in the Hennepin County DWI courts. According to the findings, the county lost nearly $800,000 on DUI court participants since its inception in 2005. Offenders in Hennepin County DUI courts are more likely to be sent to jail than in other counties, which tacks on to total costs.

The other eight counties that participated in the DUI court study were Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing, Lake of the Woods, Otter Tail, Ramsey, Roseau-Kittson and St Louis county.

Three Traits

The study also examined the most common demographic factors for DUI offenders in Minnesota. The three most salient traits for DUI offenders were:

  • Caucasian
  • Male
  • Employed

Avery Appelman comments

This is a great study because it showcases what we as defense attorneys already know. Jail and fines are less effective than rehab and treatment. Jail time and monetary penalties are punishments, and while nobody is arguing that offenders should go unpunished, it needs to be paired with treatment, otherwise the cycle will continue.

Oftentimes we tell our clients to check into a treatment program prior to going to court. Sure, it looks good to the judge that the accused has voluntarily sought treatment, but we know that treatment is the first step in correcting the behavior and preventing recidivism.

I hope plenty of judges and juries heed these findings.

Related source: Pioneer Press, NHTSA

Little Falls

Little Falls Murderer Must Pay $21,000 To Victims’ Families

Byron David Smith, the 66-year-old Little Falls man who was found guilty on two counts of premeditated murder in the first and second degree after he killed two teenage intruders during a home invasion has been ordered to pay over $21,000 in restitution to the victims’ families.

The Little Falls saga began nearly two years ago when Nicholas Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, broke into Smith’s home on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Smith’s home had been frequently burgled, so when he heard people breaking into his house, he waited in the basement with a shotgun. Brady was the first to enter the basement, and Smith shot him as he descended the stairs. Smith then walked up to an injured Brady mortally wounded him with a shot to the face.

Kifer descended the stairs a short while later. Smith again shot the teen as she was coming down the stairs, but when he went to shoot her again, his gun jammed. Smith then retrieved a handgun, and as he stated during his testimony, delivered “a kill shot.”

The case made national news as pundits discussed how far a homeowner could go to protect his or her dwelling. Ultimately the jury decided that Smith’s actions went above and beyond “reasonable measures” in protecting his home, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Court Costs

After the guilty verdict was read, Brady and Kifer’s families submitted a restitution request. They hoped to to recoup $42,000 in restitution costs for expenses like funeral costs, transportation costs during trial, and loss of wages by the parents.

Ultimately the Morrison County District Court met the families half way, awarding them a total of $21,421 in restitution. Brady’s family was awarded $9,577, while Kifer’s family received $11,844.

Related source: Pioneer Press

Minnesota Sex Offender

Minnesota Sex Offender Reform Report Published

As we mentioned back in August, experts tasked with reviewing Minnesota’s current sex offender program asked to have their report deadline pushed back until mid-November. Today, they published their findings in a comprehensive 108-page report.

In all, the experts issued a list of 44 recommended changes for the program. Some of the most prominent recommendations include:

  • The state’s civil commitment statute should be modified to ensure it only applies to sex offenders and those at the highest risk for recidivism.
  • Expediting the process to move the only female resident to another location.
  • Re-evaluating each resident to see if they truly meet the criteria for commitment.
  • Institute a discharge plan for an offender as they are admitted to the program. The old program left many with ambiguous guidelines and little hope of being released.
  • Both the state and the program should begin preparing communities to meet the needs of future discharged residents.

The report mirrors a state task force finding from 2013 which stated that the current sex offender reform system “captures too many people and keeps too many of them too long.” Officials at the Department of Human Services are currently reviewing the 108-page report to determine the state and the program’s next move.

When you look at the data, it’s hard to suggest the program has been anything but a life sentence for current offenders. Under the program’s 20-year history, of the more the 700 offenders admitted to the program, only two have ever been discharged.

In addition to the changes proposed in the report, the program faces another obstacle in the form of a class action lawsuit. A group of sex offenders has sued the state claiming the old process was a violation of their due-process rights. Their case is expected to presented to a judge in February.

Related source: Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press

 

Wisconsin DUI

Wisconsin Judges Lenient on Chronic Drunk Drivers

A review of drunk driving cases by a Wisconsin media company found that many chronic offenders throughout the state receive lenient sentences.

Moreover, in at least a dozen cases, judges imposed sentences below the mandatory minimum. Sometimes this was done by negotiating around vaguely worded statutes, while other times judges blatantly disregarded mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Ben Kempinen, a Law School professor at the University of Wisconsin, said it’s strange that judges who are tasked with upholding a law are blatantly overlooking current statutes.

“If (legislators) say you have to give the guy at least a year and (judges) are not doing it, then they’re not complying with the limits on their power,” Kempinen said.

More From The Review

The analysis of over 900 DUI cases across the state uncovered:

  • Some judges failed to institute probation upon an offender’s release from jail, while others let offenders serve some sentences simultaneously.
  • A Green Bay man convicted of seven drunk driving offenses should have been sentenced to three years in jail based on mandatory minimum laws, but he received a two-year sentence and ultimately only served nine months in jail.
  • The same judge handed down a similar sentence in another case. When the mandatory minimum called for three years, he sentenced the offender to two.

Avery Appelman comments

On the surface level the report might seem concerning that judges aren’t following the law to the letter, but there’s more to it than that. For example, the judge in the case above said he only went below the mandatory guidelines based on recommendations of prosecutors. He also said it’s his job to interpret the law and apply it on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the Legislature has a right to express their opinion that these are mandatory, in their opinion this is the sentence that should be imposed, but I don’t think I’m a computer. I don’t think I’m a robot. I try to listen to what everybody has to tell me,” said Judge Donald Zuidmulder. “I do respect that and probably follow it 99 percent of the time or 98 percent of the time.”

I think Judge Zuidmulder’s take is a good one. No two cases are the same, so a one-size-fits-all law isn’t going to be perfect 100 percent of the time. I’d much rather have a judge like Zuidmulder than one who doesn’t consider all the factors in the case and rules, as the judge referenced, as a robot.

Related source: Gannett News Media, Pioneer Press

Daylight Savings Crime

Daylight Savings Crime

November has brought plenty of changes here in Minnesota. We turned the clocks back to get an extra hour of light in the morning, and Mother Nature dropped a few inches of snow on our heads. So while you may be better able to see the snow on your car windshield when you scrap your car off in the morning before heading to work, today we want to focus on how daylight savings time impacts crime rates.

A study out of the University of Virginia found that daylight savings time has a large impact on the number and types of crimes committed. As you might guess, the earlier it gets dark, the more crimes occur. This happens for three main reasons:

  • It gets dark earlier.
  • It stays dark longer.
  • Less witnesses are outside due to decreasing temperatures.

The cover of darkness and the fact that their are less potential witnesses outside to observe crime are prime reasons why criminal activity increases in the late fall and winter.

What Crimes Increase?

Not all crimes increase in the cold months. For example, disorderly conduct and DUIs tend to drop as people aren’t typically outside as much in the cold winter months. The crime that increases the most is robbery.

Jennifer Doleac, co-author of the study, said robberies increase 7 percent overall, and 27 percent during the sunset hour. She says the cover of darkness provides thieves and other criminals with the discretion they need, and discussed the drop in crime when we turn the clocks forward in the spring.

“We find an increase in light during the hour of sunset impacts a number of socially damaging crimes, including robbery, murder, and rape, with a total estimate social cost avoidance of over $550 million per year,” Doleac wrote. “We also find suggestive evidence that much of the avoided crime comes through criminal deterrence, which means not only fewer victims but also a lesser need for the expensive and potentially damaging incarceration process.”

Nicholas Sanders, an economics professor at the University of Virginia who co-authored the study with Doleac, added that the increase in crime in the fall is most noticeable during the hour of sunset.

“The majority of those effects are really concentrated in the hour of sunset which is to say 6,  7 o’clock in most areas, the hour that sees the biggest change in the amount of light that’s present is the hour that sees the largest change in crime,” said Sanders.

However, he says the morning hours are a different story.

“In the morning the criminals still haven’t had their coffee, they haven’t gotten up and gotten their day started.”

This blog isn’t meant to keep you indoors every night after 5pm, but it should serve as a warning to stay alert to suspicious activity. Always lock your car doors if parking on the street, and make sure other areas, like garages and storage sheds are also secured once night falls.

Related source: Stanford.edu

minneapolis police

Minneapolis Police Launch Body Camera Program

If you’re stopped by a Minneapolis police officer in the near future, you’ll want to smile, because you might be on camera.

The Minneapolis Police Department has equipped 36 officers with body cameras as part of a pilot program aimed at preventing police brutality and citizen complaints. The officers will wear the cameras for six to nine months in order for the city to fully evaluate their effectiveness. If the pilot program is successful, the city hopes to outfit all of its officers by late 2015.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said the cameras have the potential to pay for themselves by preventing claims against officers.

“This technology will protect our officers from false and frivolous claims, saving time and money in the process,” Harteau said.

Mayor Betsy Hodges added that the cameras will also help keep officers accountable for their actions.

“It brings increased accountability and transparency for both the police officers and for the public moving forward, which is a benefit to everybody, and a benefit to public safety,” Hodges said at a press conference.

Minneapolis is the latest Minnesota city to adopt police body cameras. Departments in Burnsville, Farmington and Duluth have already equipped their officers with body cameras, and early reports suggest they have been successful.

The only real issue that some people have with the cameras is that they don’t record all the time. The recorder can be turned on and off at the officer’s discretion, which has led to some concerns about hiding the true nature of encounter. Harteau said they are training their officers to turn their cameras on during every public encounter. They believe this process will make it easier to review the tapes.

Related source: Star-Tribune, Kare 11

Weird DUI

Man Charged With DUI Attempts To Eat Breath Test Results

A Connecticut man faces a slew of charges after driving drunk and attempting to eat his DUI test results.

40-year-old Kenneth Desormes was stopped by New York police this weekend after they caught him speeding on Interstate 95. After speaking with Desormes during the traffic stop, troopers determined he was under the influence of alcohol. He was placed under arrest and brought back to the station.

That’s where the case took a turn for the weird. Law enforcement officials gave Desormes a Breathalyzer test which revealed the man had a blood alcohol content of 0.13 percent, more than 1.5 times the legal limit. Officers say when they attempted to print off his Breathalyzer results, Desormes lunged for the paper and attempted to dispose of the evidence by eating it. Despite his best efforts, officers were able to salvage the test results.

Desormes’ actions at the police station earned him a few additional charges. When it was all said and done he faced charges of:

  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Obstructing governmental administration
  • Criminal tempering.

Desormes is expected to appear in court later this month.

Related source: Fox New York

by Appelman Law Firm