Category Archives: Criminal Defense

Montana Case Echoes Little Falls Killings

A Montana man will face a similar sentence to that of Byron David Smith, the man convicted of killing two unarmed teenagers who had broken into his home in Little Falls, Minnesota, back in 2012.

Just like Smith, Markus Kaarma’s “castle doctrine” defense – that a homeowner can use deadly force to protect his dwelling so long as the force is deemed reasonable – failed because the jury decided he went beyond what could be considered “reasonable.”

Case in Question

According to court documents, fed up by what he felt was a lack of action by police, Kaarma decided to take matters into his own hands. Kaarma testified that teenagers had been stealing from unlocked vehicles and open garages in his neighborhood, including once from his home.

Kaarma decided to bait the thieves into stealing from his home, so he left a purse on the floor of his garage and left the door halfway open. He knew it was only a matter of time before the teens returned to the area, and he even told his hairstylist, ‘I’ve been up three nights with a shotgun waiting to kill some kids. I’m not kidding, you’re seriously going to see this on the news.”

Sure enough, a few days later on April 27 Kaarma was alerted to movement in his garage via motion capture sensors. Kaarma opened the garage door and immediately fired four shotgun blasts at the intruder. Diren Dede, an unarmed 17-year-old intruder was hit by two of the shotgun blasts, including a fatal strike to the head.

Because he baited the intruder and went above what the jury decided was a reasonable use of force, Kaarma was found guilty of deliberate homicide, whereas Smith was found guilty of two counts of premeditated murder.

Kaarma is due back in court February 11 for sentencing. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“What the jury’s saying here is, you have a right to defend yourself, but this isn’t reasonable,” said University of Montana law professor Andrew King-Ries said. “Lots of people have guns here, and lots of people feel very strongly that comes with a responsibility to handle your weapon appropriately.”

Related source: Star-Tribune

Crime Spikes During Home NFL Games

There will be no more home football games for the Vikings or Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium this year, and that could lead to lower crime rates, according to a new study.

Researchers tracked the crime rates in eight cities home to an NFL franchise to determine how home games affect crime rates. Analysts tracked crime rates for Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington for a two-year period. After comparing the data, researchers found:

  • On days that cities hosted a home game there was a 3 percent increase in total crime.
  • Larceny rates jumped 4 percent on game days, while car thefts rose 7 percent.
  • Noon games are most closely connected to higher crime rates than afternoon or evening kickoffs, as there was a 4 percent increase in total crime and economic crime during midday starts.

“NFL home games are correlated with a higher incidence of crime compared to non-game days or days when the team is playing an away game in another city,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers say the results aren’t surprising, as it’s easier for criminals to strike in large crowds where opportunities are more plentiful. They noted that the increase in car thefts has a lot to do with a large gathering of cars in one area, most of which are left unattended for a few hours. This gives a thief plenty of time to find the ideal opening to strike.

“If stadium, restaurant, bar, and other parking lots are full of cars, it will be easier for thieves to find suitable cars to steal,” the researchers wrote.

Although there is a greater police presence around the stadium on game day than on any other day, oftentimes they are overwhelmed with other tasks, like crowd control or alcohol-related instances. This can provide the perfect cover for thieves.

“A large gathering of people on game day increases the number of potential targets and may also reduce the likelihood of criminal apprehension, as criminals can blend more easily into larger crowds,” the authors wrote.

Researchers concluded that the uptick in crime is costly. They estimated that a 3 percent increase in crime amounts to $85,000 per game day, or about $700,000 per city, per year.

Avery Appelman Comments

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an uptick in certain crimes during NFL games. Not long ago we published another study that claimed domestic violence and assaults increased during football games, especially if the team that lost was expected to win.

I’m not surprised crime rates spike during home football games because we seem to get a few more calls on Sunday night and Monday morning the day after a Vikings game than we do on an average Monday.

The study didn’t look into DUI arrests, but I’d be interested in seeing how DUI rates on football Sundays compare to Sundays without football. I think there would certainly be a spike in the hours after a home game or a particularly important win.

Related source: Herald Net

Our Hearts To Your Soles

Last month Appelman Law Firm participated in the wonderful event, Our Hearts to Your Soles. The event provides shoes, foot exams and legal advice to homeless and financially burdened individuals in the Twin Cities.

We have participated in the program for a few years now, but we can honestly say this year’s event was one of the most memorable. All of the shoes and socks were handed out, which is especially important considering the cold winter months we have ahead of us, and a good deal of attendees sought out legal advice from our Ask an Attorney booth. We didn’t keep track throughout the night, but we’d guess we provided about 50 individuals with a free legal consultation.

One of the best parts of this event is the fact that the attendees are so appreciative of the information they receive. People were genuinely appreciative to get a better understanding of their legal situation, whether it was a child custody ordeal or how to best apply for jobs with a criminal record.

The event left a mark on us. So much so that we decided we couldn’t wait another year to participate. That’s why we’ve decided to provide free legal help at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul on a more regular basis. We’re still working to get a concrete schedule, but we plan to make ourselves available at the center once every three months so we can give back to a community that has given us so much. Keep your eyes on our blog for more information about the next time we’ll be available at the center.

Thanks to all the wonderful people who attended and helped make the event a huge success. For more information about the night, swing on over to my colleague Dr. Lance Silverman’s website. He provides foot exams and helps hand out shoes at the event, and he provided a recap on his blog.

Thanks,

Avery Appelman

(Photo courtesy Catholic Charities of the Twin Cities)

Diversionary Programs Beneficial to Minnesota Juveniles

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

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

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

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

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

Arrests Down, But Inequality Lingers

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

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

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

Related source: Star-Tribune

Primary Violation Seat Belt Law Saving Lives In Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related source: Minnesota DPS

Eric Garner Case Highlights Flaws in Officer-Involved Deaths

While the nation was still torn over the recent decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a similar case was unfolding in New York.

Last week a New York grand just decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a white patrolman who was caught on video placing a non- volatile suspect in what appears to be an illegal chokehold. The suspect, 46-year-old Eric Garner, was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.

Garner has an intimidating presence, coming in at 6-3 and 350 pounds, which may have been why Pantaleo quickly decided to apply the neck hold instead of opting for a more non-combative approach. The problem with the move is that chokeholds are banned by the New York Police Department. In fact, any move that inhibits breathing is banned by the NYPD Code of Conduct.

“A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,” states the NYPD Code of Conduct on banned police procedures.

There were numerous contradicting reports in the Michael Brown case, but unlike Ferguson, there is video of Garner’s confrontation with police. You can best see it at the 1:00 mark of this video. As you can guess, this video contains sensitive material that may not be appropriate for all viewers.

 

 

Despite being heard saying several times in the video that “I can’t breathe,” cops did little to help Garner gain control of his breathing. Garner died shortly thereafter, and the medical examiner listed the official cause of death as “compression to the neck and compression of the chest.”

Should be an open and shut indictment, right? Surely the video evidence of an illegal takedown coupled with the fact that the cop’s actions directly resulted in Garner’s death warrant a court trial, be it for murder, manslaughter or at an absolute minimum, reckless endangerment, right?

Nope. The grand just decided not to bring any charges against Panataleo.  Now police unions are blaming Garner for his death, saying is poor health (obesity and asthma), his refusal to comply and a legal “headlock” maneuver were all contributing factors in his death.

Avery Appelman Chimes In

It is simply unfathomable to me that a grand jury decided not to bring charges against the officer in this instance. His size and poor health contributed to his death? That’s equivalent to saying the way a rape victim dressed led to the assault or blaming a hostage for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, Garner may have died due to complications form obesity down the road, but you know what killed him that day? What the coroner filled as the official cause of death? Not obesity. Not asthma. It was compression of the neck and chest.

The system for prosecuting cops in this country is an absolute joke. Cops and prosecutors work together on a daily basis, so expecting a prosector to be completely unbiased when that same cop is on trial is like putting a mother on a jury tasked with hearing a case against her son or daughter. The prosecutor and mother have an inherent tie to the case that corrupts its integrity.

Until these officer-involved deaths are handled by a federal grand jury, the ties between local police and prosecutors cannot allow for a completely fair handling of justice.

Related source: Huffington Post

St. Paul Man To Be Compensated for Wrongful Imprisonment

A St. Paul man will become the first to be compensated under a new Minnesota law that pays individuals who are freed after being wrongfully imprisoned.

Koua Fong Lee will become the first person compensated under the state’s new Imprisonment and Exoneration Remedies Act. The law, which went into effect July 1, calls for compensation in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 for each year the person was wrongfully imprisoned. Individuals can also recoup court costs and related expenses.

A three-member panel of attorneys and judges will examine all the necessary factors before determining how much compensation Lee will receive.

Lee served more than two years in prison on charges of criminal vehicular homicide. According to court records, Lee was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry when he rear-ended a car stopped at a red light at an intersection off an Interstate 94 exit ramp. Three people died in the crash, and Lee was sentenced to eight years in prison, despite the court hearing testimony that Lee yelled, “The brakes aren’t working!” prior to the crash.

Toyota Recall

After sentencing, friends, family and the Minnesota Innocence Project set out to prove that Lee was telling the truth. While they were researching his case, Toyota released information about a defect in some of its models that caused “sudden unintended acceleration.” This defect caused some accelerator pedals to become stuck.

Toyota issued a recall of more than 4 million vehicles to correct the issue in 2009. The 1996 Camry was one of the vehicles covered in the recall.

The new information provided reasonable doubt that Lee was not at fault for the accident, and his conviction was overturned. He’ll likely receive a six-figure compensation for his time spent behind bars.

Julie Jonas, an attorney with the Minnesota Innocence Project, said the new law can help people put their life back together after a wrongful conviction.

“I think it’s a way of giving people something for the years that they lost in prison,” said Jonas. “Money can’t fix everything, but it’s a starting point, and it can help.”

Lee and the survivors of the crash are also taking Toyota to court. A tentative trial date has been set for January 7 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Related source: Pioneer Press, Bring Me The News

Colder Temperatures Mean More Indoors Crime

As the temperatures continue to plummet here in the Twin Cities, University of Minnesota police say criminals aren’t venturing outside to commit crimes as frequently. Instead, they are opting for indoors crimes.

“With the cool-down over the last couple of weeks, activity seems to be decreasing,” said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner. “Even criminals don’t like the cold.”

Miner added that crimes like vandalism and assaults give way to thefts, trespassers and burglaries. He noted that the holidays and extended breaks are especially opportune times for thieves who know many homeowners and residents are gone for long periods. Miner said campus police have begun making more indoors patrols now that temperatures have dropped.

Another crime that seems to spike in the winter is underage drinking. Miner said campus police patrol residence halls in plain clothes throughout the winter in an effort to cut down on dangerous underage drinking practices.

“They do some surveillance and foot patrols in plain clothes,” Miner said. “Sometimes they are able to discover things that a uniformed police officer might not be able to discover.”

Event Influx

University Police have also been busy on the weekends in recent months. Typically police have extra officers staffed for home Gopher games, but since the Vikings are playing at TCF Bank Stadium as well, Sundays are also a time when many fans descend to the campus area. Many football fans like to usher in the game with some beer, and that can lead to trouble if police aren’t prepared.

Because cold football fans and homeless individuals may be looking for a spot to warm up, Brian Swanson, assistant vice president of University Services, said campus buildings will be locked after hours on the weekend, and residents are encouraged to carry their U cards in order to gain access to certain areas after normal hours.

“If you’re here after regular business hours and you’re trying to get in a building and go through the building as a way to stay warm,” Swanson said, “your U Card will get you into more buildings than in the old days when you needed to have a key.”

Avery Appelman, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, said he also sees an uptick in drunk driving arrests in the cold winter months. He said the run of holidays – from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s – mean more people are celebrating the holidays with sprits, and they might not want to walk home if the temps are particularly cold.

“While residency halls may be dealing with a spike in students staying indoors to drink, those who would typically walk or bike to their neighborhood watering hole are now driving to avoid subzero temperatures,” said Appelman. “This can lead to problems if they are over-served and still decide to drive.”

“Make good decisions this winter,” Appelman concluded.

Man Stabbed After Eating Thanksgiving Meal Too Soon

A Pennsylvania man was stabbed by his girlfriend after he started eating Thanksgiving dinner while she was sleeping off a hangover.

47-year old Jacklyn Blake began drinking early on Thanksgiving and decided she’d take a nap prior to dinner. While she slept off her bender, Blake’s boyfriend helped himself to a heaping helping of turkey and mashed potatoes. Blake became enraged when she woke up and discovered her beau had started eating without her. According to the police report, Blake grabbed a knife and stabbed her boyfriend in the chest. She then threw the knife at his face, which resulted in a cut below his left eye.

When police arrived Blake’s boyfriend was holding a towel over his chest. He was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

As for Blake, instead of a warm meal she’s been served with charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, simple assault, reckless endangerment and making terroristic threats. It was unclear if she had retained an attorney since her arrest.

Possible Penalties

We won’t speak for Pennsylvania, but had this crime taken place in Minnesota, Blake could face the following possible penalties:

  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon carries potential penalties of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
  • Simple assault in Minnesota is usually termed as Assault in the Fifth Degree. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Instead of Reckless Endangerment, Blake likely would have received a charge of disorderly conduct in Minnesota, which is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

Needless to say, Blake will certainly want to seek legal counsel to assist with the pending charges.

Related source: DailyMail.uk

Ferguson: Grand Jury Decides Not To Indict Darren Wilson

A St. Louis County grand jury ruled that there was not enough evidence to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the wake of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The decision, read late Monday night, means that the jury of 12 did not find enough evidence to bring charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or armed criminal action against Wilson. A 75 percent ruling is necessary in Missouri to proceed with criminal charges, meaning nine out of 12 jury members needed to believe their was enough evidence to proceed with charges. In all, the jury met 25 times, heard from 60 witnesses, three medical examiners and listened to 70 hours of testimony.

As expected, the decision was met with some furor. Riots broke out in Ferguson as President Barack Obama urged citizens to express their opinions peacefully. The video is truly a sight to see.

 

The rioting lasted through the night, and reports indicate that at least 12 businesses were set ablaze. 61 people were arrested, and thankfully, nobody was seriously injured.

Examining the Evidence

Without a doubt, the events in Ferguson are going to stick with Americans for a long time. Tensions are running high, and we’re not going to get up on a soapbox and preach one way or another. Instead, just like in the court of law, we want to facilitate the spread of information and evidence so citizens can stay informed about what just happened.

Here is a comprehensive list of the information presented to the grand jury. Included in this list is the grand jury testimony, witness statements, forensic reports, police interviews and much much more. Seek out coverage of the aftermath from news sites and learn why some feel justice was served while others feel like the truth has remained hidden. If you want to peacefully demonstrate your disagreement with the decision, gatherings have been planned in the Twin Cities throughout the day.

We will continue with our Ferguson coverage if any new developments take place.