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St. Cloud Criminal Defense Law Blog

Accuracy of evidence at issue in hundreds of criminal cases

Prosecutors have always faced the struggle of finding enough evidence to convict defendants in criminal cases. Prior to the widespread use of DNA evidence, law enforcement agencies had to rely on various means of identifying defendants in cases of murder, sexual assault, and other crimes where the identity of the perpetrator was in question. One particular means of identification that was frequently used was microscopic hair analysis.  

Microscopic hair analysis involves looking at pieces of hair through a microscope in an attempt to find a match to hair found at the scene of a crime. The FBI has used the practice for decades and has put on hundreds of training seminars for state examiners to train them in the procedure. The problem is that there are serious limits to the accuracy of the process. In many cases, examiners have not received proper training and have overstated the accuracy of their findings at trial. 

Juvenile justice vs. criminal justice

In our last post, we wrote about a recent case in which murder charges against three teens were dropped out of a concern to help those teens rehabilitate. The point is an important one. As readers may know, young people who get wrapped up in the criminal justice system, overall, have a more difficult time reforming and going on to live productive, crime-free adult lives.

One of the major concerns of the juvenile justice system in Minnesota is to help young people rehabilitate while protecting public safety and holding young offenders accountable for their actions. The focus on rehabilitation is supported by research showing that mental health issues and chemical dependencies play a large role in juvenile crime, as well as the fact that incarceration has been shown to have a negative impact on young offenders. More recent research on brain development has also shown that young people are more amendable to rehabilitation than adults.

Murder charges dropped against Minnesota teens

Raising children to be productive and law-abiding members of society is no easy job, as any experienced parent can tell you. Teaching young people to take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions, while a generally good parenting approach, can sometimes result in an outcome that is every parent’s nightmare: having their child face serious criminal charges.

Take, for example, the case of three Minnesota teens charged with third-degree murder in connection with the death of a classmate who died in January 2014 after taking a synthetic drug. The 17-year-olds allegedly sold the drug to the classmate. Ultimately, the charges were dropped due to the fact the teens were determined to have the ability to reform and have positive futures. 

Work with an experienced attorney when facing child pornography charges

Child pornography charges carry an enormously negative stigma, and it is critical for those facing them to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney in overcoming this stigma and building the strongest case possible.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help an individual accused of child pornography charges in a variety of ways. One important way is to scrutinize the evidence presented by prosecutors. As in any criminal defense case, prosecutors must be able to demonstrate with reliable evidence that the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. When the evidence does not support the charges, it is important to mount a strong defense highlighting the weak points in prosecutors’ case. 

DWI consequences are both criminal and administrative

One of the aspects of DWI cases that motorists are often not aware of prior to facing charges is that there are two separate sets of consequences one has to deal with in these cases. First of all, there are the criminal penalties for drunk driving, which are imposed after conviction by the judge handling the case.

The other set of consequences one has to deal with in DWI cases is the administrative sanctions. Because these sanctions are imposed administratively, a motorist may have to deal with them even if there is no conviction. It depends on the case. 

Minnesota men charged in connection with Colorado-based drug ring

Thousands of pounds of marijuana were smuggled into Minnesota in connection with a drug ring out of Denver, according to an indictment of 32 individuals alleged to be involved in the conspiracy. Those accused of being involved in the drug ring now face charges of money laundering, racketeering, and felony marijuana charges.

At least two Minnesota men have been indicted in connection with the alleged conspiracy. One of them is the owner of a skydiving company out of Winsted who is accused of using his planes to bring drugs from Colorado to Minnesota and Texas. The other Minnesota man is accused of acting as the main distributor in Minnesota. 

Seek legal counsel before accepting or rejecting plea deal

Former Vikings star Darren Sharper, as Minnesota readers may know, is currently facing rape charges in New Orleans for allegedly drugging and raping multiple women.  At this point, Sharper has been incarcerated since early 2014, and faces similar charges in other states.

Last month, prosecutors from various jurisdictions got together and came up with a multi-state plea deal for Sharper, under which he would spend an additional nine years in prison. Sharper has already pleaded either guilty or no-contest to rape charges in three other states. In Louisiana, though, he has pleaded not guilty. Sources say the not guilty plea may simply be because magistrate judges in Louisiana are not able to receive a guilty plea for felony charges. In other words, it may be that a guilty plea is coming further on in the criminal process, though it is possible that there are issues he wishes to contest in connection to the Louisiana charges. 

Work with experienced defense attorney in drugged driving cases

In order for prosecutors to successfully bring a DWI case in Minnesota, they must be able to show either that a motorist had a blood alcohol level that met the legal threshold for a presumption of intoxication or that he or she was under the influence of alcohol at the time of arrest. In cases where the driver did not have the required blood alcohol content, prosecutors must rely on evidence other than blood alcohol content to prove impairment, such as traffic infractions, sobriety tests, admissions of the driver and other evidence.

In cases of drugged driving, prosecutors do not have the benefit of a legal threshold in proving influence, so sobriety testing and other forms of evidence are heavily relied on to determine impairment. Because of this, it can be a challenge for police officers to investigate these cases and for prosecutors to win cases. 

Domestic violence defendants deserve to have legal rights protected

Domestic violence, wherever and whenever it is truly occurring, is something everybody should be on board with taking a strong stand against. Between police investigation policy and the legal system, there should be no argument about protecting those who are being victimized by family members, relatives, and intimate partners or spouses. As a recent survey shows, the latter scenario can be a particular challenge due to widespread perceptions about how spouses should relate to one another.

According to a recent World Values Survey, spouses too often view abuse as somehow justified, at least in some situations. Among the findings of the survey—which looked at cultural attitudes in nearly 100 countries—there were 29 countries where at least one-third of men said it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife. In 19 countries, at least one-third of women agreed with that it may be acceptable in some cases. The reality is that abuse of a spouse is still abuse and it is never justified. Here in the United States, we still need to remind the public of this. 

Threat to physical safety proposed as necessity defense in implied consent hearings

We’ve been discussing in our previous posts the topic of implied consent hearings, what they are, what issues can be brought up during these hearings, and particularly a Supreme Court decision last May that there is no affirmative defense of necessity that can be raised in an implied consent hearing. In that case, as we mentioned, the woman was pulled over while fleeing from her abusive and intoxicated husband while she herself was intoxicated.

In response to that decision, a bill has been introduced which would allow a party to an implied consent hearing to raise the defense of necessity. The bill specifically provides that a petitioner may present evidence to prove that he or she refused to submit to an alcohol test because he or she was facing a threat to his or her physical safety. The measure would directly address the situation in which the woman in last year’s appeal found herself.