Category Archives: Juvenile Justice

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

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

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.

5 Interesting and Informative Criminal Law Infographics

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so instead of writing a bunch of sentences, today we’re going to let some infographics do the talking. Check out these five cool and informative inforgraphics below!

1. DUI and Field Sobriety Tests

The above infographic explains what will happen to you if you get pulled over and are suspected of driving drunk. It also lets you know what the officer is looking for during the test so you can avoid a costly mistake.

2. The Tragedy of Wrongful Convictions

This infographic provides a harsh look at the times that the criminal justice system got it wrong.

3. Defense Attorneys Vs. Prosecutors

You probably know the basic differences between a defense attorney and a prosecuting attorney, but there’s a lot more to it than trying to prove guilt and innocence.  This infographic breaks it all down.

4. From Playground to Prison – A Closer Look At Juvenile Justice in America

As the title foreshadows, this infographic examines the juvenile justice system, specifically when youth offenders are tried and sentenced as adults. Did you know about 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as an adult each year in the US? Click on for more sobering facts.

5. DUI Penalties in Minnesota

We’re proud to call this infographic our own! We put this infographic together a few years ago, and it explains what happens if you are stopped for driving under the influence in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The most important piece of advice is located in the bottom righthand corner.

Minnesota DWI

Police Cracking Down on Underage Drinking at U of M

Minneapolis police are partnering up with campus police at the University of Minnesota to combat underage drinking, which officers say is a contributing factor in many incidents.

UMPD Chief Greg Hestness said intoxicated individuals, especially those who are underage, are easy marks for would-be criminals.

“A lot of victims were under the influence of alcohol, which made them easy targets for crimes,” said Hestness in reference to a string of robberies that hit the UM campus last fall. “Not in all cases, but it’s a factor.”

The university has long since trumpeted its “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to underage drinking, but punishing the crime and taking active steps to prevent it are two different matters. Under added pressure from student and parent groups, campus police sent three plainclothes officers to popular drinking destinations during the first weekend of September. They issued 89 underage drinking citations in Dinkytown and the other two undisclosed locations, and they say they plan to continue sending undercover officers to the areas in an effort to prevent intoxicated students from becoming victims.

Minneapolis police inspector Kathy Waite said not only are intoxicated students easy targets for thieves, but they’re often too inebriated to assist in the investigation.

“Most of our victims are heavily under the influence of alcohol,” said Waite. “They don’t even necessarily recall where they were. It makes it extremely difficult to move forward on those investigations.”

Hestness added that he might be seen as “blaming the victim,” but he noted that being intoxicated and walking alone certainly “increase your risk” of being targeted by criminals.

Going Forward

Although the Zombie Pub Crawl is in the rear view mirror, Halloween is a few weeks away and partiers should take some steps to help ensure their safety, including:

• Avoid becoming extremely intoxicated.

• Avoid wandering off by yourself – Stay with your group.

• Keep your guard up for any suspicious individuals.

• Report any suspicious activity.

• Utilize public transportation, like cabs, buses or Uber to get home quickly and safely.

We always tend to see an uptick in calls on Halloween, and with the holiday falling on a Friday this year, we wouldn’t be surprised if there was a noticeable uptick in crime. This doesn’t mean there will be more cases of assault of theft, but certain juvenile crimes like disturbing the peace (ding dong ditching) and vandalism (teepeeing) are commonplace on All Hallows Eve. We don’t condone the activity, but if you find yourself in a pair of handcuffs after a Halloween prank goes awry, call us. We’ll be on call through the night and can get you out of jail quickly.

Related source: Star Tribune

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.

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

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.

UPDATE –

“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.”

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

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