Category Archives: Criminal Conduct

Warm Spell May Be To Blame In Campus Crime Uptick

The University of Minnesota has seen a rash of violent crimes over the past week, and campus officials believe the warm winter weather may be contributing to spike in crime.

University police issued three crime alerts last weekend for incidents that took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three victims were robbed by a group of thieves.

University of Minnesota Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said criminals venture outdoors when the weather warms up.

“Typically, it is very cold this time of the year,” he said. “It was a bit warmer last weekend, so that could have had an impact on the suspects going out and looking to create crime.”

Three Separate Thefts

The first instance that prompted a campus crime alert occurred Friday. According to the police report, an unidentified individual was robbed on campus near Williamson Hall. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the robbery, but as of posting the police did not have even evidence to charge them with a crime.

The second incident occurred Saturday at 6:30 a.m. near the intersection of 15th and Como. Logan Brion, a University of Minnesota-Morris student, was robbed while in town visiting a friend. According to Brion, he was walking down the street when he noticed three men were following him. Brion decided to run, but the suspects caught up to him and began to punch and kick him. The criminals demanded his wallet and became enraged when Brion told them he didn’t have it with him.

“One of them threatened to shoot me with a gun and said he was going to kill me if I didn’t comply with them,” Brion said. “I didn’t provoke them or anything, they could’ve gotten everything they wanted without violence.”

The suspects made off with Brion’s iPhone, winter coat and drawstring bag.

Although Brion noted that he was able to track the iPhone to a housing project near the Cedar-Riverside area, the suspects still remain at large.

“There is nothing like this in Morris,” Brion said.

The final incident that spurred a crime alert happened Sunday morning in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Rory Traut was walking near Van Cleve Park when four masked men approached him and demanded his personal items. Three of the men took his iPhone, phone charger and wallet while a fourth held a gun to Traut’s neck.

“I’m from a small town — it makes me a little more nervous about going to Dinkytown or Minneapolis,” Traut said.

The items were later recovered by police, but fingerprint testing proved inconclusive. The police are classifying the case as an ongoing incident.

Related source: MN Daily

Scholarship For Aspiring Law Students – The ALF Crime Scholarship

We’re excited to announce that we will once again be providing a law school student with a $1,000 scholarship to use for tuition and related expenses! Last year was the first year we gave away the scholarship, and it was a huge success.

To keep things simple, we’re not doing much to change up the requirements for the scholarship. In order to be eligible for the Appelman Law Firm Criminal Defense Scholarship an applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Have a criminal record or a significant law-related life event that sparked an interest in pursuing a career in law.
  • Be enrolled or accepted into an accredited law school in the United States.
  • Have a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher.

Do you meet those criteria? Great! Here’s the rest of the information you need to send in to be eligible to receive the scholarship.

Requirements

An applicant will need to submit the following documents:

  • An official copy of your current academic transcript.
  • Copy of the police report documenting your criminal record. (This information will be held in confidence.)
  • An essay of 1-3 pages describing your crime, punishment, how the incident led you to pursue a career in law/criminal justice and what you intend to do in the future with your law degree.

Upon selection, the winner will need to provide proof of residency, and Appelman Law Firm will contact you/your school to ensure the funds go towards appropriate expenses.

Award and Deadlines

One award winner will be selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship to assist with their college expenses. The winner will be notified of their selection on or before August 1, 2015.

Applications and all required forms must be postmarked no later than May 31st, 2015. You can email your application and documents to Ryan McGinty at ryan@aacriminallaw.com, or you can mail your submission to:

Appelman Law Firm
4501 Minnetonka Boulevard Suite 100
St. Louis Park, MN, 55126

MLK’s View on Law From a Birmingham Jail Cell 

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a day when we honor Dr. King for his role in bringing the Civil Rights Movement to the national stage. We’ve written about Dr. King’s fascinating legal escapades last year in a post, but today we present his poignant view on law and the citizen’s role in questioning it.

Here is an excerpt from his piece, Letter From a Birmingham Jail. The full text can be read here.

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern.

Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.

Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. 

Screech Charged With Felony Stabbing in Wisconsin

Dustin Diamond, best remembered for his role as “Screech” on the TV show Saved By the Bell, has been charged with a felony count of reckless endangerment after allegedly stabbing a man during a bar fight in Wisconsin.

According to the police report, Diamond and his fiancee Amanda Schutz were bar hopping in Port Washington, Wisconsin, when they were confronted by “a group of intoxicated people being rude and insulting.” The words soon turned to punches, and Schutz was bloodied by the woman in the party. Shortly thereafter, Diamond exchanged blows with two men in the group.

Concerned bar patrons helped break up the fight, but after the melee one of the males noticed a half-inch puncture wound in his right armpit. Officers noted that the cut was bleeding significantly, but it was not considered life threatening. Diamond and his fiancee had left the scene before the authorities arrived, but police caught up to the couple’s SUV and found a pocket knife with a 3.75 inch blade in the vehicle. Authorities said there was visible blood on the tip of the knife.

Diamond should have hired an attorney at this point, but he made things worse by providing authorities with conflicting accounts of what occurred during the scuffle. At first he told police that he accidentally stabbed the man, but then he recanted, saying he couldn’t remember if he stabbed him or not. He also told police he carried the knife for protection, and he brandished the knife to protect his fiancee.

Despite his argument that he only brandished the knife in self defense, Diamond was charged with a felony count of second-degree reckless endangering safety,  disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon. If convicted, the felony charge carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison.

Diamond’s bail was set at $10,000, and he is set to make his initial appearance in Ozaukee County Court today.

Avery Appelman comments

Hopefully the bar has video evidence of what transpired that night, because a felony charge is no laughing matter. It’s easy to see how someone could overreact if they saw their fiancee being bloodied by someone they didn’t know. Diamond certainly escalated the situation when he stabbed the other man, but if the other three were the aggressors, Diamond could get off scot-free.

Video evidence likely won’t have audio, but it would be much more substantial than any he-said, she-said testimony from patrons who were likely drinking alcohol.

We’ll keep a close eye on Screech as he fights this charge.

Related source: Rolling Stone

Charges Expected After Mall of America Protest

Although nobody was hurt or arrested during the “peaceful” protest at the Mall of America this weekend, criminal charges may be filed against the organizers. There was no property damage either, but store owners are saying the protest cost them big where it hurts – their wallets.

Thousands of protestors in the group “Black Lives Matter” filled the Mall of America rotunda on Saturday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The group, which hopes to raise awareness and ignite change in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, certainly caused a stir. According to police reports, the waves of protestors made it nearly impossible for shoppers to traverse the mall. The mall eventually went into a partial shutdown for about two hours during the protest.

Illegal to Protest?

You may be thinking, “how can peaceful protestors get in trouble when nobody was arrested, hurt, and no property was damaged?” Well, the Mall of America is technically private property, and their presence caused about 80 businesses to go into lockdown on Saturday.

Nate Bush, who works in one of the stores that had to be shut down, described the chaotic scene.

“You had people yelling and screaming inside the mall that wanted out and you had people yelling and screaming outside the mall that wanted in,” he said. “I would say the mall was less than half as busy as it should have been considering what day it was.”

Bloomington city attorney Sandra Johnson said the amount of money the demonstration cost storeowners is “staggering.” Johnson and other officials are currently looking on Facebook and social media sites to determine who helped organize the protest.

“This was a powder keg just waiting for a match,” said Johnson. “The main perpetrators are those who continued on their Facebook site to invite people illegally to the Mall of America.”

Another concern was the organized march around the mall. Johnson said they are trying to identify who led the large lap.

“Who led that march through the Mall of America?” said Johnson. “If we can identify those people who were inciting others to continue with this illegal activity, we can consider charges against them too.”

Lena K. Gardner, a member of the “Black Lives Matter” group, said several different leaders took part in organizing the protest, and the mall’s loss in revenue is not their fault.

“We came to sing carols and raise awareness,” she said, “and the Bloomington police are the ones who shut down the mall, not us.”

Related source: WCCO

Diversionary Programs Beneficial to Minnesota Juveniles

Minnesota officials are crediting diversion programs and community-based alternatives as the main reasons why the state spends so much less than the national average when it comes to housing, feeding and guarding juvenile inmates each year.

Findings from the Justice Policy Institute revealed that Minnesota spent $104,839 per juvenile inmate in 2013, and while that may seem high, it’s over $40,000 less than the national average, which comes in at $148, 767. New York spends the most on juvenile incarceration, as their bill comes in at $353,000 per juvenile, per year.

While many states are looking for ways to reduce juvenile incarceration costs, some are looking to Minnesota as an example. Although the state spends more than double than Louisiana, the state that spends the least on per-juvenile incarceration, Minnesota has been praised for its diversionary programs. One small but effective program is the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which helps juveniles prepare for court and reminds them of important dates with phone calls to ensure they follow through with appointments.

“I think we’ve also realized that incarcerating juveniles, short of serious crimes, is not a good idea,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Freeman added that these resources keep juveniles charged with minor crimes like curfew or truancy from ending up in jail because of a skipped court date. Other programs like community-based alternatives have also been found to save on incarceration costs and reduce recidivism.

Arrests Down, But Inequality Lingers

Fewer Minnesota juveniles are being arrested than in years past. Between 1998 and 2011 the number of juveniles arrested each year fell from 79,584 to 36,192. Minneapolis saw a similar drop, as juvenile arrest rates fell 65 percent between 2000 and 2013. State officials credit the drop to:

  • Initiatives aimed at young offenders.
  • Mental health screenings.
  • Risk-assessment tools.
  • Transition plans to help reintegrate juveniles back into the community after serving time.

Despite the encouraging findings, the report also highlights some inequalities when it comes to demographic arrest information. According to the findings, black youths are arrested at a five times higher rate than whites for similar offenses, and Latinos are about twice as likely to be arrested. Minnesota has some of the highest rates of racial disparity in its correction system.

Related source: Star-Tribune

Wisconsin Man Blames DUI on Beer Battered Fish

A Wisconsin man is blaming his latest DUI on a heaping helping of beer battered fish.

John Przybyla, 75, of Friendship earned his 10th DUI on October 12 when officers spotted his truck cross the center line on State Highway 13.

Officers noted that Przybyla smelled of alcohol, so they asked him to step out of the vehicle and preform a field sobriety test. Pryzbyla promptly failed the field sobriety test, but he denied drinking any alcohol that night. Instead, he said his elevated blood alcohol content must have been a result of his recent meal of beer battered fish.

Pryzbyla submitted to a breathalyzer which found that he was operating the vehicle with a BAC of .062. That’s under the standard legal limit, but as you may have guessed, someone who has nine previous DUIs is no longer expected to adhere to regular standards. A condition from a previous conviction said he was not to operate a vehicle with a BAC above .04.

In addition to the charge of driving under the influence, Pryzbyla was hit with a third-offense charge of operating while revoked, and he was cited for having open intoxicants in the vehicle and operating left of the center line.

Fish Fry DUI

For the sake of arguing let’s test Pryzbyla’s theory using some ballpark estimates. For example, let’s say a standard beer batter requires half a can of beer for a batter that covers eight pieces of cod. Let’s also say we’re using a Surly Furious with a 6% ABV.

Now, most of the alcohol would be burned off if the fish were cooked in the oven, but let’s say they are flash fried in oil, and for the sake of arguing, only half of the alcohol burns off, leaving the batter at 3% potency.

The BAC calculator shows that a 200-pound male would need to drink six, three-percent beers in rapid succession to have a .062 blood alcohol content. So lets do the math.

Half a beer = one eight piece cod fry.

One whole beer = Enough batter for 16 pieces.

Six beers worth of fish = 6×16 = 96 pieces of cod in rapid succession, assuming not a drop of the batter goes unconsumed.

Something tells us Pryzbyla came in a few pieces short of 96.

Related source: Channel 3000

Primary Violation Seat Belt Law Saving Lives In Minnesota

Five years ago the Minnesota Legislature made a change to the state’s seat belt law, changing the violation to a primary offense. The change meant that drivers could now be pulled over if an officer spotted someone driving without using a seat belt, even if that was the only traffic law they were breaking. Previously, when it was classified as a secondary offense, an officer could only stop a seat belt-less driver if they committed another driving offense, like speeding or failing to use their turn signal.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, that law change has saved the lives of over 130 Minnesotans.

Researchers analyzed Minnesota crash records before and after the primary seat belt law went into effect. After comparing the data, researchers believe the law has resulted in:

  • 132 fewer deaths.
  • 434 fewer severe injuries.
  • 1,270 fewer moderate injuries.

In addition to the saved lives and reduced number of injuries, researchers say the law has kept money in Minnesotans’ wallets. They believe the reduced crashes saved people at least $67 million in hospital fees, including $16 million or more of state tax dollars that would have been billed to government insurers.

State officials say more Minnesotans are becoming accepting of the seat belt law becoming a primary violation as well. 62 percent of Minnesotans supported the change when it was passed in 2009, and that number has been climbing ever since. Now, 70 percent of Minnesotans say they support the primary law change.

Not surprisingly, seat belt use is also up in Minnesota. Only 86.7 percent of Minnesotans said they always wore their seat belt in the car in 2008, but that number is up to 94.8 percent as of the most recent survey.

Minnesotans would be wise to buckle up during their holiday travels, and not just because roads may be icy. Over 8,000 Minnesotans were ticketed during October’s annual “Click it or Ticket” campaign, and there’s little reason to believe an officer will let you off with a warning. Don’t let your holiday spending money turn into a costly ticket because you didn’t buckle up this season.

Related source: Minnesota DPS

Car Thefts Increasing in the Twin Cities

While national car thefts are decreasing, the Twin Cities are bucking the trend as they’ve seen an increase in cases of Grand Theft Auto.

According to police documents there were 841 reported cases of car thefts in St. Paul between August and November of this year, meaning about 210 cars were stolen each month or seven cars a day.

St. Paul police spokesman Paul Paulos said thieves are no longer interested in the allure of a bike. He says they’d rather steal a vehicle.

“The numbers fit the times,” he said. “Why take a bike when you can break into a car, take it, drive it a couple blocks and dump it?”

Crimes of Opportunity

Despite what Hollywood shows us on the big screen, thieves don’t usually McGyver their way into the car and speed away by hotwiring the engine. Instead, most thieves strike because the victim left their doors unlocked and their keys in their car, or worse, they left their car running while making a quick pit stop.

“I was just running in,” said Chase Berndt, whose car was stolen last week. “I didn’t think I need to lock it since I was going to be right back.”

Police told Berndt that older models like the Toyota he was driving are usually sold for parts, and they are rarely recovered intact.

Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, said thieves are targeting older vehicles with less theft-protection technologies.

“People think you’re going to steal the really hot-looking car, and that’s not true,” Kulda said. “It’s going to be (the) kinds of cars (that) need parts.”

Apparently thieves really needed parts to Honda Accords, as the 1996 model was the most stolen car in Minnesota in 2012. Kulda also noted that stealing newer cars is no easy task, as many come with a smart key or a fob that need to be in the vehicle for it to start.

Top Cities for Car Thefts

Although Grand Theft Auto crimes have risen in St. Paul, the Twin Cities are still well below the top cities for car thefts. You’re much more likely to have your ride jacked in California, as the state boasts nine of the top 10 cities with the highest auto theft rates.

1. Bakersfield, CA.

2. Fresno, CA.

3. Modesto, CA.

4. San Francisco, CA.

5. Stockton-Lodi, CA.

6. Redding, CA.

7. Spokane, WA.

8. Vellejo-Fairfield, CA.

9. San Jose, CA.

10. Yuba City, CA.

Minneapolis-St. Paul comes is a 131st on the list, with 184 auto thefts per 100,000 people. The Twin Cities reported 6,364 auto thefts in 2013.

Related source: Pioneer Press

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.