Appelman

The Felony Murder Rule: The Ryan Holle Case

Wednesday, 16. April 2014

Ryan HolleFew people have sympathy for convicted murderers, and rightly so, but you may feel differently after hearing the story of Ryan Holle, who was convicted of murder at the age of 21.

What’s unique about Holle’s case is that the prosecution fully admits that the 21-year-old was sleeping, miles away from the incident, when the killing occurred. So why was Holle sentenced to life in prison for murder? Because of an outdated law called the Felony Murder Law.

Holle’s Role

In the early morning hours of March 10, 2003, Holle was hanging with some friends after a night out partying. Holle decided he wanted to call it a night and go to bed, but his buddies had other ideas. William Allen Jr., Holle’s housemate, asked if he could borrow the 21-year-old’s car. Having no need for it since he was about to turn in for the night, Holle handed his housemate the keys.

Allen and three associates drove to the house of a well-known drug dealer a few miles away. They knew the dealer had a safe in her house, and they planned to rob it. The group went inside the house and threatened the woman and her family. During the robbery, one of the men, Charles Miller Jr., bludgeoned the drug dealer’s 18-year-old daughter to death with a shotgun he found inside the house. The group made off with a pound of marijuana and $1,425.

The Felony Murder Rule

Not surprisingly, the men were arrested for the crime shortly thereafter. What was surprising was the fact that authorities also arrested Holle, despite witness reports that he was not at the scene when the crime took place. Police decided to charge Holle with first-degree murder under a legal doctrine known as the Felony Murder Rule, which states:

Anybody who participates in a felony offense is criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony. 

In other words, because Holle lent his car to his friend, which they then used to commit a felony, the prosecution merely needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holle knew his friends were going to use his car to aid in a felony offense.

Holle gave a statement to police in which he seemed to admit to knowing that his friends were going to go commit a robbery, and as the prosecutor explained during trial, “No car, no murder.”

Holle changed his stance in an interview in 2007, saying he “honestly thought they were going to get food,” adding that he didn’t think they were serious about the robbery plans.

“When they mentioned what as going on, I thought it was a joke,” he said.

They jury didn’t see it Holle’s way, and he received the same sentence as the four men at the scene of the crime – Life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Is It Justice?

It’s worth noting that the wife/drug dealer was sentenced to three years in prison for marijuana possession, but when you compare her misdeeds to those of Holle, is it really fair?

As the father pointed out during the trial, “It never would have happened unless Ryan Holle had lent the car,” but can’t the same be said about the mother? If she hadn’t been a known drug dealer with a stash of marijuana and cash, the crime would never have occurred. She got three years, but Holle could easily spend over 50 years behind bars.

Where is the justice in that?

Several Students Arrested in Dinkytown Riot

Monday, 14. April 2014

Dinkytown riot19 people, including some University of Minnesota students, were arrested Saturday in Dinkytown after a riot broke out following Minnesota’s loss in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game. 

The chaos erupted just minutes after the Gophers fell to Union College by a score of 7-4, a final tally that few saw coming when you consider Minnesota entered the Frozen Four as the odds on favorite to win the championship. Many people made their way to Dinkytown in hopes of celebrating a championship in the streets, and they didn’t take too kindly to being denied the opportunity.

The crowd began throwing rocks and beer bottles at a gathering of officers who had been dispatched to quell the impending riot. Officers responded by firing pepper spray, rubber pellets and beanbags into the crowd. One recent grad said Dinkytown “felt like a war zone.”

“There shouldn’t be riots right now. We didn’t even win,” said 22-year-old Austin Duket.

James Anderson, who rooms with Duket, said students were looking for a reason to party, and the prospect of rioting – win or lose – was already a forgone conclusion before the game.

“After Thursday, (the riots) were an event. People were like, ‘You guys want to go to the riot on Saturday?’”

Although the full arrest tally is unknown, the police scanner reported that numerous individuals were arrested for “assaultive behavior.” Officers also responded to two reports of arson and several cases of property damage, although it’s uncertain how many arrests were made in connection with those crimes.

Avery Appelman comments

As a huge hockey fan, it pains me that the Gophers fell just short of the ultimate goal, but destructive rioting is the wrong way to handle a loss. I’ve never understood why destroying public or private property in the wake of a sporting event made someone feel better.

These students could face heavy fines, and that’s just the beginning. If they have any priors, if they caused a large amount of damage, or if they were the ones who started the fires, they could face jail time. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound as if any pedestrians or officers were seriously injured during the fracas.

If you need to physically express yourself following a loss, go for a run or hit the punching bag at the gym. If you can’t channel your emotions, you might be looking for a lawyer in the near future.

Related source: Pioneer Press.

Birthday Boy Arrested For Talking

Monday, 24. March 2014

Arrested for talkingA Michigan man was arrested on his birthday on felony charges of resisting and obstructing police officers and a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace for talking longer than the three minutes he was allotted at a town meeting. 

Mark A. Adams, 59, was taken into custody for violating the Bridgeport Township law that sets a three-minute time limit for people making public comments at town meetings. According to the report, Adams continued to speak even after officials told him to stop talking.

“He was asked to wrap it up by the township supervisor and he refused and continued to talk over him,” said Bridgeport Township Manager Rose Licht. “Several times the supervisor asked him to take a seat and he refused and the police department asked him to have a seat and took him out of the building.”

Series of Problems

The birthday boy was adamant to be heard on what he called “Taliban” style actions conducted by Bridgeport Township officials and government leaders. Adams provided anyone who would listen with a four-page document citing various infractions conducted by government officials, such as police harassment, corruption, hate crimes, trespassing, tax fraud and Freedom of Information Act violations.

Licht said Adams was escorted out two other times in the past but was not arrested.

“It’s a long-time dispute,” Licht said. “If he would have wrapped it up, he would have been fine.”

Bridgeport Township Chief of Police Dave Duffett declined to discuss the case other than to say the prosecutor was reviewing all the evidence. If convicted on the felony charge, Adams could face up to two years in prison.

Adams is currently free on bond. His preliminary hearing has been scheduled for April 11.

Mel Welch comments

Look, we’ve all ran into a similar person at some point in our lives; the student who won’t stop asking the professor questions that don’t pertain to the lecture, or the person who decides the best time to catch up with their favorite grocer is when the line is three people deep.

These people may be annoying, but are their actions criminal? The letter of the law appears to show that Mr. Adams was indeed in violation of a municipal code, but a felony charge seems over the top. Two years in prison for talking for an extra few seconds? The punishment certainly doesn’t fit the crime.

Related source: MLive.com

Florida Police Spying on Cell Phone Users

Tuesday, 11. March 2014

Cell phone trackingTallahassee police are in hot water after court testimony revealed that they used cell phone surveillance equipment to track a suspected phone thief without going to a judge for a warrant. Compounding the problem, a subsequent investigation found that the department used the tracking device more than 200 times since 2010, all without seeking a warrant.

The device in question is known as a “stingray,” and it functions by tricking a user’s cell phone into thinking the device is a cell phone tower. Once the cell phone sends a signal to the fake tower, police can track the phone’s movement and intercept both phone calls and text messages.

A judge likely would have approved search warrants in some of the 200 cases, but the Tallahassee Police Department’s decision to keep their tracking information out of the public sphere and the courtroom is raising questions about fourth amendment protections.

How It All Unraveled

The department’s stingray use was first revealed during a rather simple cell phone theft case. An unnamed person reported their cell phone stolen, and without much evidence, police turned to the stingray device to attempt to locate the cell phone. The signal sent them to the house of James L. Thomas, who was promptly arrested. A subsequent search of Thomas’ home uncovered the stolen cell phone.

During court, Thomas’ criminal defense attorney asked police how they discovered that Thomas had the cell phone. The police department said they “did not want to reveal information about the technology they used to track the cell phone,” but the presiding judge demanded they answer the question. After clearing the courtroom and sealing the official record, police informed the court about their method.

A subsequent appeal of the case revealed that this wasn’t the first time authorities in the Sunshine State had used the invasive tracking device. It was uncovered that they had tracked cell phone position and possibly call and text conversations of over 200 people without going through the proper channels.

“This record makes it very clear that (Tallahassee Police Department) were not going to get a search warrant because they had never gotten a search warrant for this technology,” the presiding judge said during the appeals session.

Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has joined in the discussion to decry the surveillance tactic. They believe that when law enforcement casts a large net in hopes of catching a criminal, innocent people get caught up in the mess.

“When police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential,” said the ACLU.

The ACLU wants to uncover how rampant stingray use is across the state. On Monday, the union filed a public records submission to almost 30 departments across the state.

Mel Welch comments

Another story of law enforcement using the guise of safety to unfairly and unjustly track the movements of average citizens. Police seem to think they don’t need to follow due process as long as they have a badge. Clearly, many Florida residents have been subjected to 4th amendment violations.

Idiot Criminal Live-Tweets Robbery, Amazed When He’s Arrested By Police

Monday, 24. February 2014

(The following article includes tweets which feature some adult language. Reader discretion is advised.)

File this one in the stupid folder.

A Georgia teen was arrested for burglary after he live-tweeted a robbery in which he broke into a house and stole an X-Box 360.

The ordeal first began when Mark Montique tweeted to his followers that he was “(fixing to) do a robbery.” He then followed it with another gem of a Tweet, saying he’d break into a house if he got 20 Retweets.

Once inside, Montique tweeted that he’d steal an X-Box 360 if he got a mere 15 more Retweets

Montique tweeted that he took the X-Box and “finally got home safe,” but the adventure didn’t stop there. Possibly unaware that he had failed to turn off his location services while tweeting, some people on Twitter were able to tip of local authorities to Montique’s home address. He was shocked when the police pulled up outside his house.

Authorities quickly got to the bottom of the case, and Montique was arrested on burglary charges. Have no fear, though. He was able to send out one more tweet from the back of the squad car.

For more stories about idiot criminals, check out a few of these related posts on our blog.

What Are My Rights After A Police Pat Down?

Friday, 21. February 2014

3259606_xlEarlier this week, I shared a story about the unconstitutional strip searches being conducted by law enforcement officials in Georgia. The story led one reader to pose the following question:

Can a person refuse to be searched further if the initial pat down reveals nothing? – Dave F.

I’ll answer the question to the best of my abilities, but be advised that each situation is unique and should be treated as such.

Police Conduct

The best answer I can give you is that ultimately the police conduct will be reviewed (either by a criminal court, if the cops find something; or by a civil court, if the arrestee sues the police for violating their constitutional rights). A person does not have the right to resist law enforcement carrying out their duties, and there are crimes you may be charged with if you were to physically refuse (i.e., Obstruction of Legal Process under Minn. Stat. sect. 609.50).

Now, what the State [and I'll admit - formerly, I as a prosecutor] is remiss in remembering upon occasion, whether due to overconfidence or inexperience, is that when they charge a crime they must prove that crime occurred by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That proof must be made to a jury of the accused’s peers. It is not the defendant which is on trial – he/she doesn’t have to prove a damn thing, he has the “presumption of innocence” – it is the State which is on trial and which must prove everything alleged.

When you have law enforcement who have been deficient and cavalier in discharging their duty, enforced at the end of a barrel of a gun, there emerges a problem with the officer’s perspective, their comprehension of their duties, and ultimately with their credibility. Juries can and are unforgiving for poorly executed obligations by law enforcement – especially when the entirety of the charge (e.g., Obstructing Legal Process) relies upon the credibility of the officer.

Police must be able to objectively articulate the basis for their seizure and search, and failing that – a citizen could have a legal claim against that officer, or at least a professional complaint to be directed to the Office of Police Conduct Review Minneapolis - http://www.minneapolismn.gov/civilrights/policereview/; St. Paul –  http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=2302). Depending on the egregiousness of the conduct, an arrestee could have a civil suit against the officer for violation of a civil right.

Free of Unreasonable Searches

A person has the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” A search of these areas requires a Warrant (i.e., a specific person/place/effect which law enforcement has a substantial belief is or contains evidence of a crime; this document is then reviewed and authorized by a neutral magistrate [judge]), or an exception to the Warrant requirement.

The Supreme Court’s test for determining these places of privacy - which can expect Warrant protection – include any area such that:

A person manifests a subjective expectation of privacy, which society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.

This includes a person’s home and their body - but both of those are also subject to the measure of “reasonableness” (i.e., “unreasonable search and seizure”).

Exceptions

There are several exceptions to the Warrant requirement, such as: search incident to arrest; hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect; consent to the search; motor vehicle exception (i.e., the police only need probable cause to search a vehicle and don’t have to get a warrant); inventory exception; medical emergency exception; exigency exception (i.e., evidence may be destroyed during time to get a Warrant); plain-view exception; and a few others I won’t list. If evidence is seized without a Warrant, and no exception exists to justify the seizure, that evidence must be suppressed.

I won’t go further, but that last sentence - “evidence must be suppressed” – has been the subject of other commentary I’ve made about the importance of a judiciary which upholds the law and doesn’t further its erosion through systemic disenchantment, acquiescence, and contrary convictions.

Failing To Clean Car Windshield Can Result in a Traffic Ticket

Wednesday, 12. February 2014

Example of a Peephole DriverArea high school students have teamed up with local law enforcement to spread awareness of an issue that has been plaguing high school parking lots and busy streets – Driving without cleaning off the snow from all car windows. 

Students at Prior Lake High School are working with the Prior Lake Police to inform the public that it’s illegal to drive with obstructed windows. Students say they often see classmates who only clean off their front windshield or just enough to see, but that can be problematic if they can only see what’s ahead of them.

“Driving in the parking lot, you see a lot of cars that still have the snow and ice on the vehicle,” said Prior Lake Senior Emily Gulstad. “In such a busy area, it’s really dangerous to have all that snow.”

It makes sense that “peephole driving” is on the rise this winter, as the temperatures have been unreasonably cold. When the temperature drops, people want to get back in their idling car as quick as possible to warm up. Failing to fully clear all your windows can be costly, though. Not only are you more likely to get in an accident if your side and rearview windows are laced with snow, but you run the risk of being pulled over for driving with obscured vision, a citation that carries a monetary penalty of $130.

Lt. Randy Hofstad is working with the high school students to spread awareness as his department has seen an uptick in winter driving accidents.

“We are seeing a lot more incidents where cars are traveling without cleaning off their windshields and front windows prior to hitting the road.”

Hofstad added that pedestrian vehicle was involved in an accident with a police car last month because the civilian failed to clean their windows properly.

“I don’t know if they necessarily don’t know or if they’re just in a hurry to get going,” Holstad said of the accident.

Attorney Geoff Saltzstein echoed Holstad’s sentiments.

“People often think they can save a few minutes or a few pennies by getting in their car quickly, as they don’t want to take the time to fully clean their windows or let their car idol too long,” said Saltzstein. “But trying to save two minutes or 25 cents can backfire if you end up sideswiping the vehicle next to you because you couldn’t see them.”

Related source: CBS Minnesota

Iowa Family Terrorized By Police

Tuesday, 11. February 2014

Police RaidAn Iowa family is recovering from a frightening display of police force after armed authorities kicked in their front door and swarmed their home while looking for a suspected criminal.

Before we go any further, take a guess at what charges caused the police to barge into a residence wearing full body armor and carrying rifles.

A. Murder
B. Assault & Rape
C. Vehicular Manslaughter
D. Credit Card Fraud

Believe it or not, the answer is D. Authorities believed a military-style raid was necessary for a credit card theft case. Needless to say, the homeowner thought the raid was excessive.

“I’ve been so traumatized I don’t sleep at night,” said homeowner Sally Prince. “This was over property purchased with a stolen credit card. It doesn’t make any sense that they would go to such extremes for something that simple.”

Police were looking for cell phones, a television and other electronics they say were purchased with a stolen credit card, but none of the merchandise was found in the home. Authorities did arrest a pair of individuals who were staying in the house on unrelated charges, but everyone involved was lucky the situation didn’t turn out to be tragic.

Homeowner’s Son Was Armed

Prince’s son Justin Ross was in the bathroom when he heard the front door being kicked in. Ross was armed with a handgun that he is legally allowed to possess, and when he heard a group of men moving through his house, he drew his weapon. Ross said an officer attempted to kick in the bathroom door, but failed to break through on the initial kick. The officer identified himself as police after the initial kick, so Ross holstered his weapon, sat down and put his hands in his lap.

Ross said the outcome could have been very different if the officer would have got into the bathroom on the first kick.

“I would have been standing there with my weapon drawn pointed at the doorway, and they probably would have shot me.”

Police Cover Up?

The actions of the police are under scrutiny not only because of their actions, but because it appears they tried to prevent any video evidence of the raid from surfacing. The raid was caught on video by a few closed-circuit cameras, and the video shows that police weren’t too happy they were being filmed. You can see video of the raid below.

The video shows one officer pulling a camera off a wall mount, while another officer covers up a different camera when he is alerted to its presence. Police said this is done so suspects can’t track the movement of officers throughout a residence, but others believe the authorities didn’t want video evidence of the raid to exist.

Attorney Mel Welch comments

We are asked to put our trust in law enforcement – and for good reason: to prevent lawlessness; to peacefully settle disputes; to maintain civil order. We give law enforcement guns, the training and authority to use them, and entrust our well-being to them; we demand restraint and propriety in the exercise of their discretion by virtue of that trust. It is a necessary expense that all must endure to protect liberties and maintain civil society.

However, here we see law enforcement actively destroying private, lawful property to obfuscate and obscure their “public” conduct. This family used legitimate tools to self-insure their property and safety (not unwisely - after all we’ve seen the “benefits” of government insurance). Police sought for, and perhaps injudiciously received, the permission to storm this family’s castle to obtain evidence of the crime of credit card fraud – none was found. In the meantime, the police violated the Constitution by failing to meaningfully knock and announce their presence. The police didn’t find any evidence of the crime they sought, yet arrested other individuals present because they found other evidence – maybe in plain view, maybe in places authorized to be searched, either way in violation of the Constitution.

This is why fidelity to the law is so important, and needed, from the judiciary. It sends the wrong message to law enforcement that “The Law”  will not hold police conduct to that high constitutional standard necessary to maintain “The Faith” in our crystalline legal structure. It does not help when judges routinely ignore the law because “it keeps the roads safer,” or because “it only takes one bullet” to write a bad story; it would ensure security to ruthlessly impose a curfew as well, but our constitutional structure does not allow for it – nor should it. Ultimately, “The Law” and those partaking in its system must be reminded in principle and particularity why the law applies, and especially to a client’s case. Beware your neighbors, lest one level an unwelcomed charge against you and employ the government to their vengeance – what a sad society we have crafted through the omnipresence of the law.

Related source: Des Moines Register

Minnesota Law Quiz

Monday, 10. February 2014

Minnesota Law Quiz

Minnesota Law Quiz

Think you’ve got a good grasp on the laws in Minnesota? Test your knowledge with our quiz.

Cellphone Thefts Soar In St. Paul

Wednesday, 5. February 2014

Cellphone TheftViolent crime in the Twin Cities may have dropped last year, but robberies, specifically phone thefts, skyrocketed in 2013.

According to St. Paul police statistics, 258 cellphones were stolen in 2013, which represented a 52 percent increase from the previous year when 170 cellphones were taken. Police say cellphones thefts are often spur of the moment crimes that occur in a matter of seconds. Police Chief Thomas Smith urged the public to always be cognizant of what is going on around them while they are on their cellphone.

“These are very concerning numbers,” said Smith. “We’re hoping to do some PSAs this year, and push out more information. We want to get people to be more aware of their surroundings vs. looking intensely at their iPhone and not knowing who is behind them.”

Combating iPhone Theft

Smith believes people can help prevent phone theft by being cognizant of their surroundings, but another precautionary measure is making waves. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has proposed a federal “kill switch” law that would allow cellphone companies to render a stolen phone inoperable with the push of a button. Proponents of the bill believe thefts would decrease if the valuable merchandise could be rendered useless moments after the theft occurred.

Kill switches sound like an effective measure, but there are plenty of moving parts that must be accounted for before the legislation is passed. Four main issues surrounding the kill switch legislation include:

  • Privacy and Security
  • Speed
  • Reversibility
  • Effectiveness

Privacy and Security – Cellphone companies want to make sure anyone who doesn’t want the kill switch option can opt out of the program. They also want to make sure there are measures in place to prevent someone from hacking into the system and killing a large number of phones at once.

Speed – This is an issue that is currently plaguing the cellphone industry as it combats phone theft. Sometimes a police report and official theft report needs to be filed with the cellphone carrier before the company will deactivate the phone. A smart thief can reprogram or “jailbreak” a phone to prevent deactivation within hours, so companies want to speed up the deactivation process.

Reversibility – In the event that a stolen phone is recovered or a lost phone is found, cellphone companies want to ensure that they can reverse the kill switch option.

Effectiveness – Ideally, the kill switch would work even if the cellphone didn’t have service. This would prevent thieves from taking a phone to a concrete bunker or basement location where they could have all the time they need to reprogram the phone without fear that it will be deactivated.

Attorney Avery Appelman said he believes kill switches would dramatically lower cellphone thefts.

“Assuming the above conditions are met, I can think of no reason why we wouldn’t see a decrease in cellphone thefts,” said Appelman. “Diamond rings or MP3 players may have value on the black market, but an inoperable cellphone would be worthless. I hope they perfect the technology in the near future.”

Related source: Pioneer Press


 

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