Minnesotans Set a Safe Driving Record in January

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

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

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

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

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

Lowest January Totals Since 1984

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

Why The Decline?

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

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

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

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

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

Related source: Minnesota DPS OTS

Preliminary Hearing Scheduled in Slender Man Stabbing

Two Wisconsin teens accused of stabbing a classmate to appease a fictional horror character will find out this week if they’ll be tried on attempted homicide charges.

The “Slender Man” case has garnered national attention for its absurdity and for the ages of those involved. Prosecutors allege that the two Waukesha girls planned to kill another girl in hopes of gaining favor with a fictional character known as Slender Man.

For those of you not up to date on your internet-born fantastical horror entities, Slender Man “came to life” as part of an online contest where users used their photoshop skills to create images that appeared to capture supernatural events on film. Eric Knudson edited a few photos to show a a tall, faceless stranger in the background, and he accompanied the images with text that made it look like the creature was associated with the disappearance of children. The fictional character eventually went viral, and people from all over the web created fan-fiction stories to help the legend of Slender Man grow.

The problem, though, is that the two 12-year-olds at the center of the case had a difficult time separating reality from fantasy. Prosecutors allege they lured another 12-year-girl into a park and stabbed her 19 times. Amazingly, the after the pair left the 12-year-old to die, she was able to crawl to a sidewalk and flag down a passing bicyclist. The biker called 911, and paramedics were able to save the girl’s life. She was released form the hospital a little over one week after the attack.

As you might guess, questions about the girls’ mental state arose. After hearing from mental health experts, a judge ruled that both girls were competent enough to stand trial. Now that competence has been established, a judge will rule if there’s enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

Based on the preliminary evidence, it seems likely that the court will move forward with a trial. Prosecutors are pursuing first-degree attempted homicide charges against the girls, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.

The Importance of Pre-Trial

As we mentioned, it seems likely that the case will head to trial, but the pre-trial proceedings are actually a pivotal part of a defense attorney’s strategy. Criminal defense attorneys use this time to determine how the prosecution plans to attack their defendant’s credibility.

Avery Appelman, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, said pre-trial hearings allow lawyers to get in the mind of their opposition.

“If you have a sense of how the other side is going to attack your defendant, you can begin to plan a better defensive strategy,” said Appelman. “Additionally, if a prosecution’s witness says something during pre-trial that you can use to strengthen your case, you can ensure you have a line of questions ready for cross examination.”

We’ll keep tabs on the Slender Man case as it moves forward.

Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Implied Consent Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissenting Opinion

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

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

Related source: Grand Forks Herald

Cowboy Jacks In Hot Water For Possible Overserving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Dram Shop Laws

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

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

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

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

Minnesota May Lower Legal Drinking Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not All On Board

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

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

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

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

Related source: Pioneer Press.

Both Sides Clash Over Minnesota Sex Offender Reform

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

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

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

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

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

Related source: Pioneer Press

St. Paul Police To Debut Body Cameras in 2016

St. Paul police officers will begin wearing body cameras as part of a pilot program in 2016, according to an agreement reached by the St. Paul city council on Wednesday.

The council approved the pilot program with the hopes that it will reduce claims of police brutality and help preserve evidence.

“[Police body cameras have] been shown to protect both police officers and community members by incentivizing both parties to reduce or eliminate the use of force,” the council announced on Wednesday. The video evidence also helps “preserve evidence from crime scenes.”

The council’s agreement is the first step towards outfitting officers in St. Paul with body cameras. Now the ball is in the police department’s court, as the council asked them to begin developing program guidelines and budgetary items. The police department will report its initial findings to the council on May 1, and if all goes as planned they’ll share specific budget recommendations at a second council session on September 1st. If the department hits their deadlines, police should have their body cameras by 2016.

Getting the framework set for the body camera program won’t be easy, because the equipment and video storage can get expensive, said council member Dan Bostrom.

“This is going to be costly, I suspect, and we should know that in advance.”

That said, getting a plan in place shouldn’t be too difficult, as numerous Minnesota police departments have already adopted body cameras. Farmington, Burnsville, Brooklyn Park, Duluth and Minneapolis all have launched or are in the process of launching a body camera program.

Work Here, Live Here

In addition to the body camera program, the city council wants St. Paul to look into financial incentives for police officers who live in the communities they serve.

According to the city council, “studies have shown that the community benefits from police … living alongside them because it builds relationships and trust, gives the police officers an inside perspective of a neighborhood and adds a level of security to a neighborhood.”

Currently only 22 percent of St. Paul police department employees live in the city. On average, 28 percent of St. Paul workers live in the city limits.

Related source: Pioneer Press

MN Lawmakers Say Workers Should Get More Paid Sick Days

Five Minnesota Senators submitted legislation on Monday calling for more paid sick days and expanded pregnancy coverage for Minnesota employees.

Senators Sandra Pappas, Thomas Bakk, Matt Schmit, Tom Saxhaug and Kevin Dahle introduced Senate File 481 on Monday in hopes of expanding sick and leave time for Minnesotans. Additionally, the proposal would increase civil penalties for employers found in violation of the new law.

New Law

If the proposal becomes law, Minnesota would join a handful of states who require employers to provide employees with paid sick leave. States like Connecticut and Massachusetts have similar laws already in place, but they only apply to companies with at least 50 and 11 employees, respectively. The Minnesota law would require all employers provide their employees with paid sick leave, regardless of the size of their company. Companies that already offer paid time off may not need to revise their policies, but they will need to ensure they are up to par with the minimum requirements set forth in the proposed law.

As the bill reads:

Each employee who has performed at least 680 hours of work for the employer or who has worked for that employer for at least 17 weeks, would accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked for that employer.

Employees working for employers with 21 or more employees would not accrue more than 72 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year, unless the employer agreed to a higher amount.

Employees working for employers with less than 21 employees would not accrue more than 40 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year, unless the employer agreed to a higher amount.

A full list of all the conditions set forth in the proposed law can be seen here.

Pregnancy and Leave Law

The bill would also affect parenting leave laws, especially for smaller employers. Under the current law, companies with fewer than 21 employees are not subject to state pregnancy and parenting leave laws. The new law would expand coverage to any Minnesota company with at least one employee.

The proposal would also allow employees to get parenting leave earlier than before. The current law requires that a person be employed at a company for at least a year and to have worked at an average number of hours equivalent to no less than half of what a full time employee works. The new law would allow employees to seek parenting leave after 17 weeks of employment or 680 hours of work.

Related source: JD Supra

Drunk Zamboni Driver Earns Mid-Game DUI

A zamboni driver tasked with cleaning the ice between periods of a girls high school hockey game in North Dakota was arrested and charged with a DUI on Friday.

Parents and fans became wary  of Steven Anderson’s driving ability after watching him clean the ice after the first period. Suspecting that Anderson may be under the influence, a school official decided to phone the Fargo Police Department. Police arrived before the conclusion of the second period and had a short talk with Anderson. It’s unknown if Anderson submitted to a Breathalyzer test, but authorities had enough evidence to place him under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. He was booked at the Cass County Jail.

Fargo Parks District Recreation Director Clay Whittlesey said he’s never seen anything like this.

“I’ve been in this position for 25 years. I’ve never heard of this before happening,” said Whittlesey. “Obviously I’ve heard it with bus drivers and school systems and things like that, that this has happened, but we’ve never had anything like this.”

Whittlesey may not have heard of a Zamboni DUI before, but we have!

Jim Larson, director of finance and human resources for the Fargo Park District, who manages the rink, said that Anderson made a poor choice, and although the district will formally address the issue on Monday, he made it clear that Anderson will no longer be driving the zamboni for the rink. Larson added that his team will review the matter to ensure safeguards are in place to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

“I don’t want to in any way dismiss how serious this is,” Larson said. “We’ll review the situation to determine how this happened and what we can do to make it even more fool proof.”

Anderson was the only person at the rink who knew how to drive the zamboni, which left the teams from Davies High School and Williston High School in a pickle. A school official called in another driver, but the teams didn’t want to wait for the replacement. They opted to play the 3rd period on rough ice. Davies went on to win by the score of 5-4.

Related source: WDay

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

by Appelman Law Firm