Category Archives: Juvenile Justice

Justice Department Clears Darren Wilson in Ferguson Shooting

The United States Justice Department won’t prosecute former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for his actions taken during the fatal altercation with 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Although they won’t pursue charges, the Justice Department did issue a scathing report criticizing the city and the law enforcement’s handling of the situation. In the report, the Justice Department said the city and Ferguson police exhibited racial bias and unconstitutional practices,  The report said the city and its officers created an environment that thrived on the systematic mistreatment of minorities. This type of environment was created through numerous activities, including:

  • Disproportionate searches and seizures
  • Excessive force against minorities
  • Disproportionate fines against minorities for petty offenses
  •  Frequent trading of racist emails and jokes

Attorney General Eric Holder said that bringing these faults to the surface is only the beginning. Now it’s up local leaders to create change.

“Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action,” said Holder.

Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the Brown family, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

“I really was hoping they would have come up with better findings because this whole thing just does not add up,” he said. “Everything just doesn’t make sense.”

Wilson Cleared

Despite the condemning report, the Justice Department decided not to pursue charges against Darren Wilson, noting that there was not sufficient evidence to disprove that Wilson feared for his life nor was their reliable testimony that proved Brown had his hands raised at the time of the shooting.

The Justice Department concluded that Wilson did not commit a federal rights violation because he didn’t willfully violate Brown’s civil rights through the use of excessive force. This ruling isn’t unusual, as decisions made in the heat of the moment in a life threatening situation typically favor the officer, not the other party.

Hopefully the Ferguson police department will institute numerous systematic changes, and although it won’t bring their son back, hopefully the Brown family can find some peace out of this terrible situation.

Related source: Yahoo, AP

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

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 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.

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

Warm Spell May Be To Blame In Campus Crime Uptick

The University of Minnesota has seen a rash of violent crimes over the past week, and campus officials believe the warm winter weather may be contributing to spike in crime.

University police issued three crime alerts last weekend for incidents that took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three victims were robbed by a group of thieves.

University of Minnesota Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said criminals venture outdoors when the weather warms up.

“Typically, it is very cold this time of the year,” he said. “It was a bit warmer last weekend, so that could have had an impact on the suspects going out and looking to create crime.”

Three Separate Thefts

The first instance that prompted a campus crime alert occurred Friday. According to the police report, an unidentified individual was robbed on campus near Williamson Hall. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the robbery, but as of posting the police did not have even evidence to charge them with a crime.

The second incident occurred Saturday at 6:30 a.m. near the intersection of 15th and Como. Logan Brion, a University of Minnesota-Morris student, was robbed while in town visiting a friend. According to Brion, he was walking down the street when he noticed three men were following him. Brion decided to run, but the suspects caught up to him and began to punch and kick him. The criminals demanded his wallet and became enraged when Brion told them he didn’t have it with him.

“One of them threatened to shoot me with a gun and said he was going to kill me if I didn’t comply with them,” Brion said. “I didn’t provoke them or anything, they could’ve gotten everything they wanted without violence.”

The suspects made off with Brion’s iPhone, winter coat and drawstring bag.

Although Brion noted that he was able to track the iPhone to a housing project near the Cedar-Riverside area, the suspects still remain at large.

“There is nothing like this in Morris,” Brion said.

The final incident that spurred a crime alert happened Sunday morning in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Rory Traut was walking near Van Cleve Park when four masked men approached him and demanded his personal items. Three of the men took his iPhone, phone charger and wallet while a fourth held a gun to Traut’s neck.

“I’m from a small town — it makes me a little more nervous about going to Dinkytown or Minneapolis,” Traut said.

The items were later recovered by police, but fingerprint testing proved inconclusive. The police are classifying the case as an ongoing incident.

Related source: MN Daily

Five Facts About Police Body Cameras

Police body cameras are popping up across Minnesota and the United States, but not a lot is known about the technology. Today, we share five facts about police body cameras.

1. Becoming the norm – As we mentioned above, an increasing amount of police precincts are adopting the body cameras. Michael White, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, estimated that 25 percent of police departments are using the technology or are planning on instituting the cameras in the near future. White believes that figure will jump to 33 percent or even as high as 50 percent within the next year.

2. The cameras are costly – Your Canon Rebel may have only cost $80, but police body cameras have a much larger price tag. Research conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum found that agencies spent between $120 and $2,000 for each camera. For example, the Mesa Police Department just spent $67,000 on 50 new cameras. There are also additional fees for video storage and expert analysis.

3.  No long term studies - Because of their relatively recent inception, there really aren’t any long term studies on the effectiveness of the body cameras. A short term study in California found that allegations of police misconduct and false claims dropped in the months after the department adopted the cameras, but not much is known about their long term effectiveness.  Researchers also want to determine how effective the video evidence is in the court of law, in terms of guilty verdicts.

4. Some disagreement over recording procedures – Since the cameras don’t constantly record, there has been some debate over when they should be turned on. Some departments want their officers to turn on their cameras during every encounter, while some officers think they should only be recording when a citation or arrest is likely. The American Civil Liberties Union believes all encounters should be recorded in order to avoid any possible tampering.

5. Minnesota ahead of the curve - While some departments are discussing the cameras, many Minnesota precincts are early adopters. Departments in Burnsville, Duluth, Gilbert, Farmington and Minneapolis have all begun outfitting their officers with cameras. Assuming the cameras are successful in reducing false claims and instances of police brutality, it seems likely that more Minnesota cities will join the movement.

Related source: AZ Central

 

Minnesota Women Used Facebook To Take Shoplifting Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Felonies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related source: Inforum.com

 

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