Category Archives: Juvenile Justice

Summer Crime rates

Warm Weather Brings Uptick in Violence

Researchers analyzing crime trends in the United States found that violent crimes such as assault, domestic violence and rape occur at a much higher rate when the weather is warm.

In their report titled “Seasonal Patterns in Criminal Victimization Trends,” researchers examined patterns in violent and property crime over the course of 18 years. They found that although the overall rate of crime has decreased since 1993, annual crime tends to spike during the summer months.

“Good weather means people are out and about. It also means there are more opportunities for crimes,” said one police chief. “During cold weather, people tend to stay inside.”

According to the data, winter rates of rape or sexual assault were about nine percent lower than the summer, while crimes rates dipped about 10 percent during the Fall.

Why The Spike?

There are a number of reasons crime spikes in the warm summer months. Avery Appelman explains below.

Temperature – As alluded to above, the warm weather means more people are outside. The days are also longer. When you have more people outside in parks, bars or at the beach, you’re bound to have more interactions, some of which could be physical.

Alcohol – This one goes hand in hand with the temperature. The warm weather lends itself to barbecues, trips to the beach and late nights on a bar’s outdoor patio. Alcohol can escalate a situation and make it harder for a person to think rationally. It’s no surprise as a DUI law firm that our busiest weekends of the year are Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, as these three-day weekends are often rung in with spirits.

School is Out – I’d be interested in seeing how juvenile crimes fluctuate during the summer, but it makes sense that certain property crimes like vandalism or trespassing would spike in the summer when children aren’t required to be in school. If children aren’t kept busy during the summer, their boredom may lead them to commit risky or criminal activities.

Minnesota Sex Offender

Experts Seek Delay in Sex-Offender Program Review

It doesn’t appear that four experts tasked with evaluating the current state of Minnesota’s sex offender program are going to meet the requested deadline to issue their report.

The experts originally told the court they would issue a comprehensive report on the current state of the program by the end of August, but it appears they bit off more than they could chew. They are now asking for an extension into mid- or late November, which can’t sit well with U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, who just last week announced that he wanted to expedite the review.

“We are aware that the stakes are high and that the Court and parties wish to expedite the process; however, the complexity of the issues at hand and our respective responsibilities and schedules … interfere with our ability to complete a detailed report before the end of August in the professional manner required,” the experts told the court.

Frank said the involved parties “will be discussing this and its implications” during a status conference on Thursday.

Moving Along Slowly

The experts are tasked with reviewing the current Minnesota Sex Offender Reform Program that requires some sex offenders to report to high security facilities after they’ve completed their prison sentence. Residents filed the class action lawsuit in 2011, claiming treatment is inadequate and indefinite.

As we mentioned in a previous post, of the more than 700 residents deemed sexually dangerous or psychopathic, only one resident has ever been released in the last 20 years.

In their letter to the court, the experts announced that they have reviewed more than half of the residents and have met with program leaders and staff, but added they still wanted to review a random sample of program residents and examine re-integration plans prior to releasing their findings.

Related source: Pioneer Press

Ice Bucket Challenge

Geoff Saltzstein Takes on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Over the weekend, partner Geoff Saltzstein was challenged to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the Ice Bucket Challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice cold water over your head in an effort to raise awareness and donations for the neurological disease ALS.

Although their is no specific correlation between the disease and a bucket of ice cold water, the social movement has taken the world by storm. After a person is challenged by someone else, they are told to partake in the challenge within 24 hours or donate $100 to ALS research. If they accept the challenge, they are also asked to make a smaller contribution to ALS research before nominating three friends of their choosing to participate in the challenge.

Donations to ALS research are up over 700% so far this year, and more than $15 million has been raised for research and support. To learn more about how the movement gained traction, check out this inspiring and emotional video about Pete Frates, a star athlete who continues to battle the debilitating disease. I wouldn’t watch it in the office if I was wearing mascara, as his story pulls on your heart.



Geoff was more than ready to go to bat for ALS when he got nominated by his friend Maggie. He used his video editing skills to produce the video seen below, and he made a contribution to the ALS society after he dried off.



Word on the street is that Avery Appelman may be next in line for the Ice Bucket Challenge. We’ll post his video if and when he gets nominated. Click here to make a donation to ALS research.


“Avery, recognizing that last weekend was your anniversary, I thought it best to hold off on your nomination. The holding off has gone on long enough. I hereby nominate you, Avery Appelman, and since I would hate for Branson to feel left out, Branson Appelman you too are nominated to take the ALS ice bucket challenge. Good luck boys.”

Mike Vanwagner

Coon Rapids Driver Who Killed Teen Had 0.29 BAC

The Coon Rapids driver who hit and killed a Brooklyn Center teen was operating his vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of nearly four times the legal limit, prosecutors said during their opening statements Tuesday.

The case has drawn national media attention, but not because of Michael VanWagner’s abnormally high blood-alcohol or because he was driving without a valid license or insurance. Instead, people from all over the country are chiming in on the nonchalant attitude Vanwagner expressed on social media the days after the accident.

In Facebook posts that have since been taken down, VanWagner posted a photo of his totaled car with the text, “That’s the front end after I got done with her lol :)” In the comments on the photo, a friend asked what happened, and VanWagner replied, “Going into a turn lane and weird ass speed bump flew my left front driver front into a poll then flip and smashed the other side….. 252 and 83rd.” He later added, “I’m all good slept a day in the hospital then came home and did yard work lol.”

Mike VanWagner

The problem is the “weird ass speed bump” VanWagner hit was actually the rear end of a car driven by 16-year-old Jason McCarthy. According to an accident reconstruction team, VanWagner was traveling at roughly 60 mph when his car struck McCarthy’s car. Both cars were thrown into the air, and as fate would have it, McCarthy died in the accident while VanWagner walked away relatively unharmed.

Social Outrage

Although VanWagner wasn’t aware that he killed someone until a few days after the accident, he continued to share some questionable pictures in light of the events that transpired. He shared three captioned photos five days after the accident that depicted:

  • An officer asking a driver “Any drugs or alcohol?” The driver is shown saying, “No thanks, I’ve got everything.”
  • A picture of a woman driver captioned, “You call it ‘road rage,’ I call it ‘aggressively maneuvering around assholes that don’t know how to fucking drive.”
  • Two cars on the road with the caption, “If you tailgate me, I drive slower to piss you off…”

VanWagner has since made his Facebook profile private, but that hasn’t stopped folks from weighing in on other social media platforms. Some top comments from a Reddit post detailing the accident include:

  • “This is a total stranger that killed another total stranger, so this shouldn’t affect me too much. Yet, seeing the screenshot of his Facebook status and the utter disregard towards the fact that he hit and killed a teenager while driving drunk, fills me with a ridiculous amount of rage. I can’t even imagine the level of burning fury the parents must feel after hearing about this.” – Boo-Wendy-Boooo.
  • “Why would you ever brag about drunk driving? That’s like being proud of getting an STD from a one night stand. – gasstationclerk4life
  • “His Facebook isn’t going to do him any favors when he goes to trial for killing a kid.” – IamOfficial

VanWagner was officially charged with two counts Criminal Vehicular Homicide which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine, and one count of Failure to Stop for Accident to Property, which carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. He is currently being held without bail.

Related sources: Reddit, Star Tribune, CityPages

Violent Video Game Study

Study Claims Violent Video Games Increase Teen Crime Risk

A new US study suggests that teenagers who play violent video games are more likely to engage in criminal and risky behavior than those who avoid mature video games.

The study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College tracked the video game and social habits of 5,000 randomly chosen teenagers over a four-year period. The three video games researchers specifically asked teens about were:

  • Manhunt
  • Spiderman

Researchers found that teens who admitted to playing certain violent videogames exhibited more unsafe tendencies, including smoking marijuana, consuming alcohol and committing crimes. The study also found that teens who played these games were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior and drive recklessly,

“[The study] is important because it is the first to suggest that possible effects of violence videogames go well beyond violence to apply to substance use, risky driving and risk-taking sexual behavior,” said study co-author James Sargent.

Researchers say the uptick in risky activities may be due to the fact that the violent games are being played at an age where teens’ behaviors are very prone to influence.

“This [behavioral change] is due in part, to changes in the user’s personality, attitudes and values, specifically making them more rebellious and thrill-seeking,” the authors concluded.

Lacks Causation

While this study may serve as a reminder to parents to make good decisions when it comes to buying mature video games for their children, it falls short of proving that video games CAUSE children to become more criminal. It only states that they are more likely to engage in such activity.

For example, a 13-year-old who receives Grand Theft Auto V from their parents for Christmas may not be subjected to the same values as a child whose parents decide not to let them play the mature game. If one child can play a mature game and the other cannot, it stands to reason the same child may be able to stay out later than the other child. Again, although there is a lack of causation, I’m sure if we did a study of two groups of teens, one who had a 9:00pm curfew and the other had a midnight curfew, we’d find that the group who stays out later would engage in more risky behavior, mainly because there is ample opportunity to do so.

It’s very similar to the video game study. If parents are OK with their children playing mature video games, they may also be less concerned with their child’s after school habits or may be less aware of who their children are associating with. Again, this is not saying that all children who play mature video games have bad or uninvolved parents, it just stands to reason that if a child is allowed to regularly view this sort of behavior, they may feel that the risk of engaging in such behavior is less severe than teens who are not allowed to play such video games.

This study opens some interesting avenues for discussion, but it falls short of narrowing down causation. Until then, any number of factors could be cited for this increase in the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors.

Related source: 3 News

Kid Park walk

Mom Arrested For Letting Child Go To Park…Wait What?

A Florida mom was arrested and charged with felony child neglect for letting her son go to the park by himself.

“I’m totally dumbfounded by this whole situation,” said Nicole Gainey, the mother at the center of the case.

The whole incident unfolded last Saturday when Gainey’s 7-year-old son Dominic asked if he could go to the park by himself. Gainey told him he could walk to the park on his own, adding that she “was letting him go play,” and “didn’t think she was doing anything wrong.”

The park in question is about a half mile from their home, and Dominic said it usually takes him about 10 minutes to get there. During the walk Dominic passed by a public pool, and a concerned adult asked him where his parents were. Flustered by the continued questions, Dominic ran off to the park. The adult who stopped Dominic by the pool phoned authorities, and they picked Dominic up and gave him a ride back to his house.

Police could have just dropped Dominic off, but they decided to put his mom in handcuffs for child neglect. Gainey was shocked and appalled by the arrest.

“My own bondsman said my parents would have been in jail every day,” said Gainey, who paid nearly $4,000 in bond fees to secure her release.

Gainey said the arresting officer repeatedly lectured her on the number of sex offenders in the area.

“He just basically kept going over that there’s pedophiles and this and that and basically the park wasn’t safe and he shouldn’t be there alone,” said Gainey.

Gainey believes that the half mile walk is safe enough for her son during the day, adding that he has a cell phone and they check in with one another regularly.

Gainey plans to fight the charge, but she added that she won’t let Dominic go to the park alone anymore out of fear that she’ll be arrested again.

Avery Appelman comments

Like most states, felony child neglect is subjective and determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, on a cool August day, how old does a child have to be before a father can leave him unsupervised in the car while he runs into the gas station to pick up a gallon of milk? 5 years old? 10 years old? How long will the child be in the car? These are all factors that help authorities decide if charges should be filed.

This crime occurred in St. Lucie, Florida. There is no law that specifies that a child needs to be a certain age before they can go somewhere unsupervised, so again, it’s up to the cops to look at all the factors in the case.

Ultimately I don’t believe these charges will stick. Whether or not you believe Gainey was in the right or wrong, simply bringing the child home, talking to the mother about the sex offenders in the area, and mentioning that another violation could lead to child neglect charges probably would have resulted in the same outcome. Gainey would have got the message. Instead, she now has to spend money on an attorney to fight felony charges because a cop decided this was the best way to look out for the safety of a child.

Related source: Fox 6 News

Drunk Parent

Parents, Not Strangers, Account For Majority of Child DUI Deaths

A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children are more likely to be involved in a fatal alcohol-related car crash when an adult they know is driving under the influence, not when their sober adult is struck by a random drunk driver.

The study shows that parents and relatives are a greater threat to children than an unknown drunk driver. According to the statistics, of the 2,344 children under 15 who were killed in an auto accident involving a drunk driver, two-thirds of the children were riding in the car with the drunk driver themselves. Researchers also found:

  • Texas and California had the most deaths among kids riding with drunken drivers.
  • Nearly two-thirds of children who died while riding with a drunk driver were not wearing seat belts at the time of the accident.
  • More of the adult drunk drivers survived the crashes than the children, suggesting that more children could have survived if they had used a seat belt or child seat.
  • The numbers are very similar to a nearly identical study conducted between 1985-1996.

Researchers concluded their study by saying states should consider increasing the penalties for DUI with a child in the vehicle.

Minnesota DUI with Children in the Car

A typical first-time DUI where the individual blows under a .20 is considered a Fourth Degree DUI, which is a misdemeanor offense, but Minnesota casts stronger penalties on those who choose to drive drunk with children in the car. As the law currently stands, driving drunk with a child in the car is considered an aggravating factor under Minnesota law, as is a previous DUI conviction or blowing over a .20 BAC.

If you have one aggravating factor, your charge will automatically be upgraded to a Third Degree DUI, which is considered a gross misdemeanor.  That means you’re automatically facing a gross misdemeanor offense if you are caught driving under the influence with a child under the age of 16 in your car.

If you are found guilty of a Third Degree DUI in Minnesota you will face up to a year in jail and fines up to $3,000. The mandatory minimum fine is $900, and although there is no mandatory jail sentence, prosecutors routinely ask for some form of incarceration to send a message. Additionally, if you drive drunk and cause an accident that results in great bodily harm or death, you will face felony charges.

Make smart decisions, and never drink and drive, especially if you are responsible for the safety of young children.

Kid Arrest

Locking Up Kids Leads to Adult Criminals

A report by Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. suggests that locking up youths for juvenile crimes leads to an increased likelihood that they’ll return to prison as an adult offender.

Instead of pushing for jail time, the advocacy group said prosecutors and judges should focus on making sure the juvenile offenders get the help they need – something they say it unavailable when the youth gets deeper into the juvenile justice system.

“Institutions provide virtually none of the supports the community can,” the YAP said in a statement. “Youth need to learn how to function and make good decisions within the community, and having the support of caring, competent adults and access to safe and positive people, places and activities is what leads to good long-term outcomes. Kids can’t access these supports in isolation.”

The Department of Juvenile Justice said as the number of beds in one state’s juvenile facilities declined, so too did youth arrests, felony juvenile arrests, and transfers to adult courts. The YAP believes more children are being rehabilitated through probationary programs and mental health counseling than by spending their time behind bars.

“Risk factors that make you vulnerable to incarceration cannot be eliminated through incarceration,” the YAP cited in their report. “In fact, many of the environmental and social factors that contribute to youth incarceration get worse, not better, with incarceration.”

In their report, the YAP cites a program at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center to back up their assertions. The Center put 3,523 high-risk youth through an intensive community-based program and found that nearly 90 percent remained arrest-free during their tenure, which is much higher than the average youth recidivism rate.

Related source: The News Service of Florida

Scholarship Entry 2

ALF Scholarship Essay #2 – David Stoddard

We’re currently in the process of narrowing down finalists for the $1,000 Appelman Law Firm Scholarship, and we thought it would be a great idea to share some of the best essay submissions we’ve received on our blog. As part of the application process, entrants were asked if they would allow their story to be shared on our blog, and if so, how they would like to be attributed. Today’s essay comes from David Stoddard.


In high school, my friends and I would occasionally drive 30 minutes south to a pond in Salem, Utah to go swimming. This pond has a large bridge that spans one of its widest points. We would climb on the rail of the bridge and jump 40 feet into the cold waters below. Being mischievous teenage boys, we loved the rush that we felt on two separate levels. First, we loved the feeling of crisp waters quickly engulfing our bodies. Second, we knew this activity was not allowed, as there were signs posted stating “No Trespassing,” thus adding to the excitement of the act.

Due to the imminent risk of being caught, each time we drove to Salem we would only do a few jumps before returning to our vehicles to quickly exit the premises. One warm summer night, we decided we would go around midnight and do as many jumps as we could, in order to get the most thrilling return on our investment of driving time. This time, we planned it well and invited as many of our friends as would like to participate. One of our friends invited his female cousin who subsequently invited a couple of her friends as well. Needless to say, the group ended up being much larger than we had initially anticipated.

The night came, and three cars full of teenagers ventured sneakily down to Salem Pond. We tiptoed over to the bridge and began our plunges into the dark waters below. As one may imagine, a large group of teenagers comprising both genders plunging into brisk waters in the shadows of moonlight is not a quiet activity. Within about fifteen minutes, flashing lights of red and blue came racing around the nearest bend. What is the one thing a bunch of seventeen and eighteen year olds are thinking when they know they are about to be caught? Run! And that is exactly what we did, scattering in every possible direction. The next hour was comprised of hiding in bushes and lurking in shadows as we watched officers hunt each nook and crevice with their flashlights. After about an hour, we were all caught.

With the kindness and compassion of the officers, we were only officially charged with one offence. Having ran for so long and trespassed, we know that our punishments could have been much worse. Because some members of our group were seventeen years old, those of us who were eighteen received Class B misdemeanors for ‘Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.’ On September 21, 2006, those of us who were eighteen appeared before Judge Howard Maetani for our arraignment. We did a plea in abeyance. We each paid a one hundred dollar fine and had six months of probation. At the completion of six months, the charge was dismissed.

Since this run-in with the law, I have stayed out of any other sort of trouble. This experience, although unfortunate to have happened, has helped me gain a frontline view of the legal system coming to life in a way that I never would have been able to see otherwise. I have always been fascinated by law and the criminal defense system. Had I not gone through this short-lived trial, I would not be able to appreciate what criminal defense is all about. The counsel that we were assigned was very helpful to explain the ramifications of our plea and the punishment to follow.

Furthermore, as I am now approaching law school, I want to be sure I have a clean record going forward. To facilitate this venture, in February I began the process of expunging this offense on my own. I contemplated hiring an attorney to help me through the paperwork and filing technicalities but ultimately decided to pursue it independently. This was the best decision I could have made! I love learning by doing. Going through the appropriate channels of getting my certificate of eligibility, followed by serving the prosecutor, and the petition to expunge has taught me a great deal about how the legal system works. I am now in the ninety-day waiting period before the judge issues the order to expunge. This whole experience has taught me a great deal and has further solidified my excitement to start law school in August.

As an attorney, I would love to help those who have walked through my same footsteps. I know everyone makes mistakes, and it would be my honor and privilege to help others feel comfortable through the sometimes confusing legal system. Having been here before and known the overwhelming feeling that can come with a criminal charge, I know how great it feels to be given quality counsel. I want to pay it forward and be the one to give that counsel. It is my hope and prayer that obtaining my legal education will help facilitate that ambition.

Hood disease

Youth Crime: Accepting Affuenza and Punishing PTSD

Back in February we heard the story of Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old boy who drove drunk and killed four people on a Texas highway. Couch’s attorneys argued at trial that the child’s parents were partly to blame because they gave their son everything he wanted and failed to set limits or discipline him. His attorneys painted the child as a victim of “affluenza” – the result of a wealthy and privileged life.

Many who followed the case cried foul when the teen was sentenced to 10 years of probation. Prosecutors had asked for a 20-year jail sentence, but the judge ultimately decided probation was the better route. If Couch has one misstep in the next 10 years, he faces the possibility of 10 years in jail.

PTSD in the Inner City

Another mental disorder is plaguing youth of a different breed – Inner city youth exposed to crime and violence on a regular basis. According to research presented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention, one in three urban youth have mild to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Youth living in inner cities show a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers,” said Dr. Howard Spivak, director of the Violence Prevention Program.

Another expert, Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade of San Francisco State University, said important aspects of a teen’s life fall by the wayside when crime and violence are interjected into their life.

“You could take anyone who is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar,” said Duncan-Andrade. “Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home.”

Unlike “affluenza,” PTSD in inner city youth doesn’t get such a glamorous moniker. The slang nickname for the mental issue is “hood disease,” and rarely do judges give the benefit of the doubt to inner city minorities who commit much less heinous crimes than Ethan Couch.

Olis Simmons, CEO of Youth Uprising, said people don’t want to help those with “hood disease.” They’d rather just pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Terms like ‘hood disease’ mean it’s someone else’s problem, but it’s not. That’s a lie. It’s a collective problem, and the question is what are we prepared to do about it?”

Mel Welch comments

These conditions are reflective of our jurisprudence of rehabilitation rather than retribution. When that is the motivating consideration, naturally a person’s life and potential wayward influences will be closely examined. Much criticism is leveled at this approach, but it is really a redux of the retribution-rehabilitation debate.

With “hood disease,” as in the case of “Affluenza,” the question is whether these youths, who have been so influenced by the norms in their environs, can develop the “evil intent” (mens rea), which is what is prohibited by law. A person can accidentally do a forbidden act (e.g., cause a death through a series of unforeseen and unforeseeable incidents) and the law doesn’t (or shouldn’t) punish that.

Do these youths have the wrongful intent when they commit the crime, or have they been so affected by their social constructs that they can’t reasonably discern the consequences of their actions? I’d love to see more research done on the subject, as far too often teens are shipped off to prison instead of getting the mental treatment they so desperately need.

Related source: CBS San Francisco