Category Archives: Criminal Conduct

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

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.

St. Paul Police To Debut Body Cameras in 2016

St. Paul police officers will begin wearing body cameras as part of a pilot program in 2016, according to an agreement reached by the St. Paul city council on Wednesday.

The council approved the pilot program with the hopes that it will reduce claims of police brutality and help preserve evidence.

“[Police body cameras have] been shown to protect both police officers and community members by incentivizing both parties to reduce or eliminate the use of force,” the council announced on Wednesday. The video evidence also helps “preserve evidence from crime scenes.”

The council’s agreement is the first step towards outfitting officers in St. Paul with body cameras. Now the ball is in the police department’s court, as the council asked them to begin developing program guidelines and budgetary items. The police department will report its initial findings to the council on May 1, and if all goes as planned they’ll share specific budget recommendations at a second council session on September 1st. If the department hits their deadlines, police should have their body cameras by 2016.

Getting the framework set for the body camera program won’t be easy, because the equipment and video storage can get expensive, said council member Dan Bostrom.

“This is going to be costly, I suspect, and we should know that in advance.”

That said, getting a plan in place shouldn’t be too difficult, as numerous Minnesota police departments have already adopted body cameras. Farmington, Burnsville, Brooklyn Park, Duluth and Minneapolis all have launched or are in the process of launching a body camera program.

Work Here, Live Here

In addition to the body camera program, the city council wants St. Paul to look into financial incentives for police officers who live in the communities they serve.

According to the city council, “studies have shown that the community benefits from police … living alongside them because it builds relationships and trust, gives the police officers an inside perspective of a neighborhood and adds a level of security to a neighborhood.”

Currently only 22 percent of St. Paul police department employees live in the city. On average, 28 percent of St. Paul workers live in the city limits.

Related source: Pioneer Press

MN Lawmakers Say Workers Should Get More Paid Sick Days

Five Minnesota Senators submitted legislation on Monday calling for more paid sick days and expanded pregnancy coverage for Minnesota employees.

Senators Sandra Pappas, Thomas Bakk, Matt Schmit, Tom Saxhaug and Kevin Dahle introduced Senate File 481 on Monday in hopes of expanding sick and leave time for Minnesotans. Additionally, the proposal would increase civil penalties for employers found in violation of the new law.

New Law

If the proposal becomes law, Minnesota would join a handful of states who require employers to provide employees with paid sick leave. States like Connecticut and Massachusetts have similar laws already in place, but they only apply to companies with at least 50 and 11 employees, respectively. The Minnesota law would require all employers provide their employees with paid sick leave, regardless of the size of their company. Companies that already offer paid time off may not need to revise their policies, but they will need to ensure they are up to par with the minimum requirements set forth in the proposed law.

As the bill reads:

Each employee who has performed at least 680 hours of work for the employer or who has worked for that employer for at least 17 weeks, would accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked for that employer.

Employees working for employers with 21 or more employees would not accrue more than 72 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year, unless the employer agreed to a higher amount.

Employees working for employers with less than 21 employees would not accrue more than 40 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year, unless the employer agreed to a higher amount.

A full list of all the conditions set forth in the proposed law can be seen here.

Pregnancy and Leave Law

The bill would also affect parenting leave laws, especially for smaller employers. Under the current law, companies with fewer than 21 employees are not subject to state pregnancy and parenting leave laws. The new law would expand coverage to any Minnesota company with at least one employee.

The proposal would also allow employees to get parenting leave earlier than before. The current law requires that a person be employed at a company for at least a year and to have worked at an average number of hours equivalent to no less than half of what a full time employee works. The new law would allow employees to seek parenting leave after 17 weeks of employment or 680 hours of work.

Related source: JD Supra

Minnesota Could Soon Change Fireworks Law

Minnesotans looking to ring in the 4th of July or a birthday party with some fireworks may soon be able to purchase bigger fireworks without needing to trek over to Wisconsin.

A new bill introduced by four Republican senators and one Democrat would allow Minnesotans to purchase “aerial and audible” fireworks in state. Currently the state allows the sale of spark-spraying fireworks, but it’s illegal to purchase fireworks that shoot up in the air. Bill SF 465 is attempting to change that.

Firework sales have been a hot topic of late. A bill legalizing mortars and other flying fireworks was passed in 2012, but Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the bill, claiming the law did not adequately address certain safety precautions. Governor Dayton hasn’t announced that he’s changed his position on the sale of fireworks, but SF 465 is hoping some of the clauses satisfy Dayton’s outlook on firework safety. According to the bill:

  • Exploding fireworks would only be available for purchase between June 1 and July 7.
  • Cities would not be able to ban the sale of fireworks, but cities would be able to pass ordinances banning people from igniting the fireworks they purchased.

It seems likely that a compromise over audible and aerial fireworks will be accepted in the near future. The current law is keeping money out of local firework businesses’ pockets, as determined revelers have no qualms about traveling over to Wisconsin to pick up their heavy duty fireworks. Additionally, with the cover of night and the myriad of fireworks that are launched on 4th of July weekend, law enforcement have a tough time policing those who currently shoot off illegal fireworks unless they are clearly putting people or property in danger with their aerial display.

For a state that recently legalized medical marijuana and gay marriage, a compromise over fireworks should be a lot easier to hammer out, logistically speaking. Hopefully we’ll be able to ring in our nation’s independence with more than a few sparklers in a few months.

Related source: Citypages

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