Category Archives: Criminal Defense

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

Minnesotans Set a Safe Driving Record in January

January was one of the safest months on Minnesota roads in more than 20 years, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

According to collision data, nine individuals lost their lives in automobile accidents in Minnesota during the month of January. The previous low for traffic deaths in the month of January was 15, set in 2011. Traffic fatality data dates back to 1984.

Despite the encouraging numbers, OTS Director Donna Berger said the number is still too high.

“While it is important to highlight the decline in traffic deaths across Minnesota, we must not forget that statistics equal real people and at least nine families said good-bye to loved ones in January,” said Berger.

As you can see by the data below, Minnesota has been making great strides in recent years to reduce traffic deaths in a month that’s typically plagued by poor driving conditions.

Lowest January Totals Since 1984

  • January 2015 – 9
  • January 2011 – 15
  • January 2013 – 16
  • January 1991 – 16

Why The Decline?

Although it’s difficult to determine exactly why the number of traffic fatalities in January were so low in 2015, it’s easy to make some educated guesses. First is the increased efforts to get drivers to buckle up and ensure they never drive drunk. Minnesota police have been very vocal about their “Click It or Ticket” and “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaigns, and they’ve also announced numerous heightened patrol weekends during holidays in an effort to curb drunk driving.

Some crashes are harder to prevent than others, but Lt. Tiffani Nielson said drivers need to continue to make smart decisions behind the wheel.

“The vast majority of crashes are preventable,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson, Minnesota State Patrol. “We encourage all motorists to drive to the conditions of the road, wear your seat belt, pay attention and never drink and drive.”

The traffic report from the Office of Traffic Safety also listed the most common contributing factors in fatal accidents. The OTS found:

  • Speeding played a role in one in five deaths.
  • A drunk driver was involved in one in five deaths.
  • Distracted driving was a factor one in four fatalities.
  • About half of the motorists killed in auto accidents were not wearing a seat belt.

Related source: Minnesota DPS OTS

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.

Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Implied Consent Law

The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the state’s Implied Consent law on Wednesday, effectively saying that as long as the ends justify the means, bypassing forth amendment protections is perfectly acceptable.

Implied Consent, the law at the center of the case, says that drivers must submit to field testing and a breathalyzer if they are suspected of driving under the influence, even if there is no warrant. Proponents of this law continue to champion driving as a privilege, and thus argue that citizens must acquiesce to the whims of law enforcement even without the presence of a warrant. They say things like “Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then why should it even matter?” and “Only guilty people would refuse,” but they are missing the larger picture. Our constitution protects us from unreasonable and warrantless searches, so no justification of your refusal should be needed. If the officer really wants to search you, and he has probable cause, then it should be no trouble to get a warrant and conduct a legal search.

The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, demonstrates a frightful line of thinking, especially for a person in her position of power.

“It is rational to conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a breath test relates to the State’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,” she wrote. “We therefore hold that the test refusal statute is a reasonable means to a permissive object and that it passes rational basis review.”

In other words, criminalizing a citizen’s right to execute fourth amendment protections granted by our Constitution is fine because it makes the world a safer place.

You know what else would make the world a safer place? Instituting a 7 pm curfew. Most crimes happen at night, right? Or how about we institute the death penalty for anybody caught going over the speed limit? I’m all but certain we’d see a huge drop in traffic violations. That would make the world a safer place, wouldn’t it?

The rational used by Justice Gildea is exactly the line of thinking Ben Franklin cautioned against when he said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Dissenting Opinion

Although the majority opinion won out, Justices Alan Page and David Stras wrote a harsh criticism of the ruling. Justices Page and Stras said biological material inside a person’s body should not be applicable to the warrantless search exemption.

“The Supreme Court has never implied, much less stated, that the search-incident-to-arrest exception extends to the forcible removal of substances from within a person’s body,” they wrote. “In the end, the court ultimately arrives at a decision that is as notable for its disregard of Supreme Court precedent as it is for its defective logic.”

Related source: Grand Forks Herald

Cowboy Jacks In Hot Water For Possible Overserving

Cowboy Jacks in Plymouth could face serious penalties after police say the the bar’s patrons have been involved in numerous alcohol-related instances after they leave the establishment.

Plymouth police have been asking individuals who were involved in an alcohol-related crime or hospitalization where they sipped their last drink in an effort to determine if any particular establishment may be overserving its patrons. Police uncovered that Cowboy Jacks was a name that came up quite frequently. According to the data:

  • In the last year, of the 57 people who told Plymouth police where they had their last drink, 43 said it came at Cowboy Jacks.
  • Of the 57 cases, 16 involved DUI arrests. Of those 16 individuals, 13 told police they took their last drink at Cowboy Jacks.
  • The average BAC of DUI arrests from Cowboy Jacks was .172, more than double the legal limit. For other DUI arrests, the average BAC was .132.

The Plymouth City Council said the bar could face significant sanctions if the trend continues. If the bar is named as the last drink destination of three people arrested for alcohol-related offenses within a three-month period, Cowboy Jacks could be fined or have its liquor license revoked.

“They are incomparable to anyone else. The numbers are that staggering,” said Plymouth police chief Mike Goldstein.

While the findings are surprising, there are a number of other factors that haven’t been considered. For example, maybe police target the bar’s patrons around closing time, and ultimately, the bar isn’t forcing anyone to get in their car when they are over the limit.

Minnesota Dram Shop Laws

Alcohol license revocation could be the least of the bar’s worries in the event that one of their inebriated patrons ends up hurting or killing someone else. Under Minnesota’s Dram Shop law, “A spouse, child, parent, guardian, employer, or other person injured in person, property, or means of support, or who incurs other pecuniary loss by an intoxicated person or by the intoxication of another person, has a right of action in the person’s own name for all damages sustained against a person who caused the intoxication of that person by illegally selling alcoholic beverages.”

Cowboy Jacks wouldn’t be illegally selling alcoholic beverages in the traditional sense, but under the state’s dram shop law, it’s illegal for an establishment to sell alcohol to a minor or an obviously intoxicated person. Some people hold their liquor much better than others, so proving that someone was “obviously intoxicated” at the time they were served is difficult.

Hopefully Cowboy Jacks retrains its bartenders to spot drunk patrons and does more to provide transportation options for those who clearly shouldn’t be driving.

Related source: Bring Me The News, Minnesota Sun Sailor, The Partnership for Change

Minnesota May Lower Legal Drinking Age

If Rep. Phyllis Kahn gets her way, you may soon be seeing a younger crowd in the bar on the weekends.

Kahn has been trying for years to get the drinking age lowered, but this year she’s got a few aces up her sleeve. First, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the federal government can no longer withhold funding from states who go against federal recommendations. Before this change, the government could withhold 10 percent of federal highway funding to states who lowered the drinking age from 21.

Kahn’s second play is attacking the current law on two fronts. She has proposed two new laws in the event that the first proposal is seen as too lenient. Her two proposals include:

  • Allowing people who are at least 18 years old to drink in bars and restaurants, but not allowing them to purchase alcohol at liquor stores; or
  • Letting people who are at least 18 years old drink in bars or restaurants when accompanied by their parents.

Kahn believes moving towards a more European-style approach will help curb underage binge drinking.

“It’s a very good way to deal with the serious problem of binge drinking, particularly on college campuses,” said Kahn.

18-year-old Andrew Deziel, of Bloomington, agrees with Kahn, saying you are allowed to make many bigger life decisions before you’re legally allowed to buy a beer.

“If you can go and die for your country but you can’t have a beer, I can’t understand that.”

Not All On Board

As we mentioned above, this isn’t the first time Kahn has tried to pass legislation to lower the drinking age, so it’s no surprise that she has some opposition. Governor Mark Dayton has spoke out against lowering the drinking age in the past and there’s little evidence that he’s changed his stance. In fact, Dayton already mentioned that he’s not persuaded by what he called, the “Phyllis Kahn special.”

“I think we are better off staying where we are,” Dayton said. “I haven’t talked to any of the legislators about it, I don’t have an etched-in-concrete position, but this debate has been going on appropriately for many years now, and the middle ground comes down to: It should be 21, where it is now.”

Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights agreed, saying he hasn’t heard much support for the change from fellow legislators.

“The only place I’ve heard about it is here at the Capitol,” Atkins said. He added that lower the age would be “a difficult lift.”

Related source: Pioneer Press.

Both Sides Clash Over Minnesota Sex Offender Reform

After months of investigation and data collection, a trial to determine the legality of Minnesota’s current sex offender reform program has finally begun.

Attorneys for both sides issued opening statements Monday in a trial that is expected to last several weeks. Dan Gustafson, the attorney representing more than 700 sex offenders in the civil commitment program, issued a strong challenge of the current system, asking Judge Donovan Frank to rule the program unconstitutional. Gusatson noted that only one individual has ever completed the program, which showcases that the current rehabilitation system is failing.

Conversely,  Deputy Minnesota Attorney General Nathan Brennaman argued that the program did not infringe the rights of the offenders. He believes the program is constitutional, and he noted that an unconstitutional ruling could jeopardize the safety of Minnesotans by placing many former offenders back on the streets.

Whatever is decided, it’s clear that some changes are needed. Imagine if you had a graduating class of 700 individuals, and even though you went to class and received good grades, only the valedictorian was allowed to graduate. Certainly nobody would argue that the school program was working. On a smaller scale, a similar ideology can be applied to the sex offender program. Individuals who serve their time, receive clearing from mental health experts, show remorse, have made positive strides in their life, are unlikely to re-offend and who are monitored after their release are certainly deserving of a second chance. They shouldn’t be forced to wallow in a purgatory-like state for years and years.

Although he may not rule it unconstitutional, it seems likely that Judge Frank will order that the program undergo a few changes. As he wrote in a 75-page report, Frank said the current structure has “grave deficiencies” and needs sweeping changes. We’ll keep tabs on the case as it continues over the next few weeks.

Related source: Pioneer Press

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

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