Category Archives: Criminal Defense

Minnesota Bill Hopes to Make Government Spying Illegal

If Republican Senator Branden Petersen gets his way, any evidence collected through illegal NSA surveillance techniques would be inadmissible in Minnesota courtrooms.

Senator Petersen recently introduced SF 33, which states:

A government entity may not obtain personal identifying information concerning an individual without a search warrant. A court order granting access to this information must be issued only if the government entity shows that there is probable cause for belief that the individual who is the subject of the personal identifying information is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.

Concerns over illegal National Security Agency (NSA) information collection came to a head two years ago when NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing that the agency regularly collected data from Americans, even if they weren’t suspected of any criminal wrongdoing. Snowden wasn’t the only former NSA employee to complain about the agency’s data collection tactics. Former NSA technical chief William Binney said the NSA spying was “the most threatening situation to our constitutional republic since the Civil War.”

Senator Peterson’s bill is hoping to enhance the fourth amendment protections of average Americans.

“It seems like we’re always addressing issues after the fact when it comes to certain government technologies and methodologies. It does make more sense to simply address it in a more universal way so that explicitly the protections of the Fourth Amendment are extended to electronic data,” said Petersen.

While Petersen’s bill would strengthen Fourth Amendment protections, not all legislators are on board. U.S. State Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, believes the NSA’s tactics have prevented the US from experiencing a tragedy similar to 9/11. Speaking without specifics, Klobuchar said the data collection allows the agency to identify potential terror threats before they occur, not after.

Keeping citizens safe is ideal, but not at the expense of our privacy and unalienable rights. As the great patriot Ben Franklin once said, “those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” Citizens need to be protected from the reach of a new Big Brother.

Related source: Inquisitr

Minnesota Delves into Officer Involved Fatal Shootings

An analysis by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension revealed that state police officers have shot and killed at least 60 individuals since 2008.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those killed by police officers were male, but considering recent events in Ferguson and New York, you may be surprised at the ethnic and demographic breakdown. According to the statistics:

  • 95 percent of those killed were male.
  • 61 percent were white.
  • 26 percent were African American.
  • The median age for whites killed by police since 2008 is 36. For African Americans, the median age is only 24.

Additional information from the report delves in to the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the aftermath:

  • Drugs, alcohol or mental illness were mentioned in nearly 1/3 of the reports.
  • In more than 70 percent of the deaths, police shot a person holding a gun or knife.
  • In 30 percent of the cases, the officers reported being shot at.
  • More than a quarter of the shootings began when police received a call about a domestic disturbance.
  • None of the 87 officers who discharged their firearm in a fatal encounter have faced criminal charges.

The BCA said they sought to uncover even more data, but some stations denied their request, citing privacy laws. David Klinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said there’s no reason why the public shouldn’t have access to all the fatal shooting data.

“There’s really no logical reason for us not to have that [data],” Klinger said. “We have data on all sorts of other things. Why don’t we have that on what arguably is the most important thing that the government does in terms of inserting them in the lives of citizens — i.e. trying to put a bullet in their body? There’s not much that is more serious than that.”

St. Paul Sees Troubling Numbers

St. Paul had a rather high number of African Americans die at the hands of a police officer over the past six years. According to the report, more than half of the 11 people shot and killed by St. Paul police were African American. The St. Paul department has been involved in more fatal shootings than any other department since 2008.

Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP, said the high number of fatal shootings is very concerning.

“These are the most serious matters that the community is concerned about,” Martin said. “Even the bad actors among us have constitutional rights, and they shouldn’t be shot at without an opportunity to be taken into custody peacefully.”

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered that African Americans in Minneapolis were 11 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to whites, even though usage rates are similar.

“In the numbers the ACLU put out, you see in terms of low-level drug arrests you get a lot more African-American males searched for marijuana and then ticketed for marijuana possession than whites,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Chapter of the ACLU.

Samuelson believes race certainly plays a factor in some confrontations, but he noted that it doesn’t explain why some interactions turn deadly.

Related source: MPR News

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. 

DUIs Spike During Holidays But Down Overall in 2014

Although Minnesota saw a small increase in DUIs during the holiday season compared to 2013, the state saw an overall reduction in the annual number of drunk driver arrests.

A Freeborn County woman with a 0.45 blood-alcohol concentration was one of 2,537 Minnesotans arrested during the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign that stretched from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. That’s up ever so slightly from 2013 when 2,453 drivers were arrested during the same holiday period.

Despite the holiday uptick, DUI arrest numbers are trending in the right direction. 24,159 people were arrested for DUI in Minnesota in 2014, more than a 6 percent decrease from 2013 when 25,719 Minnesotans were booked for drunk driving. This year marked the eighth straight year the drunk driving arrests fell, but Donna Berger, director of the Minnesota DPS’ Office of Traffic Safety, said DUIs are still a problem in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“Drunk driving is a choice, a choice that can have life-altering consequences for you or other on the roads,” said Berger. “Even though we are encouraged by declining DWI numbers, one drunk driver is one too many.”

Speaking of one too many, although the Freeborn County woman took the unofficial record for highest BAC, the police statistics show that 16 drivers were booked with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 or greater, essentially four times the legal limit. The State Patrol said these individuals are lucky they didn’t hurt themselves or others during their drunken drive.

“This woman is very fortunate that she didn’t injure or kill herself or another motorist,” said State Patrol Lt. Tiffani Nielson.

More DUI Statistics

Some other statistics from the six-week DUI enforcement include:

  • 303 drivers were arrested for DUI on the Saturday before Christmas, the highest one-day total during the six-week stretch.
  • The State Patrol’s east metro district had the most DUI arrests during the campaign, with 168.
  • Outside the metro, the top DUI arresting agencies were in Rochester, St. Cloud and Stearns County.
  • In addition to drunk driving arrests, police also issued 2,093 seat belt violations during the six-week campaign.

Minnesota Women Used Facebook To Take Shoplifting Orders

Nine Minnesota women are accused of taking shoplifting orders on Facebook before heading into several stores and stealing the items.

Some of the stolen items include 30 bottles of name-brand perfume, 41 pairs of Levi jeans and multiple designer handbags. The thefts occurred at stores in Burnsville, Maplewood, St. Paul and other local outlets.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he believes these women are part or a larger shoplifting ring.

“I’d be willing to bet this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Choi.

Police say the women were part of a sophisticated and organized shoplifting ring. Those involved would use Facebook and other social media sites to take “orders” before heading to the stores to steal the high-end merchandise. Shoplifting and fraud cases aren’t usually top priority for most departments, but Choi said stopping these types of crimes are very important.

“I think when you’ve got organized rings like this and you’ve got chronic individuals who are engaged in this type of activity, it really sends the wrong message if they can continuously get away with all this,” Choi said.

20 Felonies

In all, the nine women have been charged with 20 felony counts in five different counties. Criminal complaints suggest the women stole approximately $35,000 in merchandise from several stores between September 2012 and June 2014.

Police documents suggest the alleged criminals were very organized in their ruse. Authorities say the women:

  • Took specific routes to stores.
  • Parked out of range of video cameras.
  • Teamed up with accomplices to complete a job.
  • Devised specific tactics for certain stores.

One of the women, Christina Coombs, told police she’d steal goods then post the items “for sale” on Facebook, usually at half price. Coombs told authorities she had between 200 to 300 customers, not including repeat buyers.

Briana Jefferson, who worked with Coombs during several thefts, has been charged with five felonies. He told police she only stole the goods “to feed her kids and pay her bills.”

Nationally, shoplifting and related retail crime costs retailers about $30 billion a year.

Related source: Inforum.com

 

Minnesota Aiming For Zero New Year’s DUI Deaths

A streak of four years without a death on Minnesota roads over the New Year’s holiday came to a halt last year when one person lost their life in a crash, but state officials are hoping to start a new streak this year.

New Year’s Eve is one of the most deadly days on US roads, as the possibility of poor winter weather mixes with late night partiers who drive home drunk after ringing in the new year. Since New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest days for drunk driving, it should come as no surprise that the Minnesota State Patrol will be conducting extra DUI patrols as part of the national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

“DWI patrols will be on the road, so don’t risk drinking and driving,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety said in a statement. “Now is the time to plan for your safe and sober ride.”

Despite the warning, Minnesota police still expect drunk drivers to hit the roads in droves. Over 300 people were booked for DUI in New Year’s Eve in 2013, despite a heads up, and the state has averaged 295 arrests each year on the holiday for the past five years.

Get Home Safe

If you’ve been following our blog long enough, you probably already know our suggestions for getting home safe after ringing in a holiday, so today we’ll do it Wheel of Fortune style. Below are five ways to get home safe after a night on the town. See if you can figure out the clues with the hints.

1. T_K_    _   C_ _ (3 words)

2.  _ _ BLI_     T _ A _ S _ _ _ TATI _ N (2 words)

3. U _ _ _  (1 word)

4. D _ _ _ G _ A _ E _     D _ _ _ E _   (2 words)

5. _ _ LK (1 word)

Answers

The answers to the five ways to get home safe on New Year’s Eve are: 1. Take a cab. 2. Public Transportation. 3. Uber. 4. Designated Driver. 5. Walk.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

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

West Virginia Man Blames DUI on Christmas Shopping

The night before Christmas Eve is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, but one thing that wasn’t bought that day was Mark Jenkins’ alibi.

According to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, officers responded to a call about a driver passed out behind the wheel at a gas station. When the arrived, they knocked on the vehicle’s windows in an attempt to rouse the driver. Jenkins woke up after several minutes of knocking, and eventually he stepped out of the vehicle to talk with the officers.

The police suspected Jenkins had been drinking, but he told the officers that he only fell asleep behind the wheel because he was exhausted from a long day of Christmas shopping. Not the most outrageous story in the book, but officers smelled alcohol on Jenkins’ breath, so they asked him to submit to a Breathalyzer. Not surprisingly, Jenkins admitted that he had “a couple” of alcoholic beverages earlier in the day, but they must have been 96oz jars of eggnog if Jenkins was telling the truth, because he blew a 0.258, more than three times the legal driving limit.

Jenkins was arrested and charged with one count of misdemeanor DUI.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen criminal acts before the holidays. Last month we shared the story of a woman who stabbed her boyfriend for eating Thanksgiving dinner while she was sleeping off a hangover, and back in October we shared the tale of a zombie who earned two DUIs in three hours while celebrating Halloween!

So please, with New Year’s Eve right around the corner, please make good decisions so we don’t end up reading your story in the Pioneer Press!

Related source: Herald Mail Media

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