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St. Cloud Criminal Defense Law Blog

Minnesota BCA stepping up cyber-crime forensics efforts

Technology is all around us. It is now part of everyday life for nearly every person in Minnesota. Whether you happen to be in the far reaches of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or lost in the crowd at the Minnesota State Fair, there is likely to be some digital trace of you to be found and now the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says it is better equipped to follow that digital trail.

According to officials at the BCA, digital forensics was once singularly applied to resolving child pornography cases. But in the past few years, the scope of efforts has broadened to a point where cyber investigating is now part of nearly every crime -- homicides, drug probes and financial crime cases. At the same time, the number of tips investigated related to just Internet crimes involving children has reportedly increased more than 400 percent since 2010.

Cosby may face perjury charges based on unsealed testimony

Many of our readers have heard by now of the situation in which actor-comedian Bill Cosby has found himself with allegations of sexual assault. For those who may not have heard, Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women, the alleged assaults having occurred over a number of years. In some cases, Cosby has been accused of drugging accusers prior to assaulting them.

So far Cosby has not been hit with any criminal charges, though this could soon change based on a deposition released on Monday. The deposition, which was conducted back in 2005, included a statement from Cosby that he had obtained Quaaludes—a sedative and hypnotic drug—to give to women. The testimony was part of a civil lawsuit in which Cosby had been accused of drugging and assaulting a woman. 

MN court: state sex offender program unconstitutional

Back in February we wrote about Minnesota’s civil commitment laws and sex offender program, and the fact that they were being challenged as unconstitutional in court. The lawsuit was actually filed against seven managers of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

The law underlying the program was passed over 20 years ago in response to the problem of recidivism among recently released sex offenders, but it turns out that the program has been quite ineffective. As we noted, the basis for the lawsuit was that, although the program aims to help rehabilitate sex offenders, most of those who participate in the program are never actually released or graduated, leading to indefinite detainment. 

Survey shows how Minnesota compares to other states in terms of DUI penalties

Laws vary considerably across the nation when it comes to drunken driving penalties, as a recent study by WalletHub makes clear. The study ranked each state according to its overall strictness in dealing with intoxicated drivers, based on the criminal and administrative penalties they impose.

Minnesota ranked fairly low on the overall list, coming in at number 26 in terms of the strictness of its criminal penalties and number 40 in terms of the strictness of penalties aimed directly at drunken driving prevention.  Overall, the state ranked 36th when it comes to overall strictness. In terms of specifics, Minnesota—unlike some states—does not impose mandatory jail time on first or second time offenders.

Addressing illegal search warrant execution in criminal defense

We began speaking, in our last post, about search warrants and the rules that apply when a search warrant is based on an informant tip. In any search, as we’ve noted, there is the risk of violating the constitutional rights of suspects, particularly privacy rights, and it is important to watch out for these issues when building a criminal defense case.

Search warrants, as a basic rule, must always be supported by probable cause. A search warrant is supported by probable cause when there is a substantial basis for concluding that a properly executed search warrant would  allow officers to discover evidence of criminal activity. Courts have a fair amount of leeway when determining whether it is proper to issue a search warrant, and appeals courts tend to defer to district court judges’ decisions on the matter. Tips from informants can certainly serve as the basis of a search warrant in some circumstances, as the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently pointed out.

Search warrants, informant tips and constitutional violations, oh my!

Search and seizure law is an important issue in criminal defense. Police investigations, of course, do not always proceed in a legal manner, and it is important for defendants to be aware of their rights when constitutional violations occur. On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a decision dealing with the legality of a search warrant. In the appellant’s case, it was argued that police searched his home without probable cause since the search warrant was based on information obtained from an unreliable informant.

The informant in the case apparently provided police a very specific description of the appellant’s home as well as where and how he hid drugs on the property. He also provided other details about when drugs were going to be delivered to the property. Based on that information, as well as several other factors, including the appellant’s criminal background and history of involvement with the law, a search warrant was issued. 

Experienced advocate can help give sex offense defendants fighting chance

Building a strong criminal defense against sex offense charges is critical, not only because of the penalties associated with these crimes, but also because of the social consequences that inevitably go along with conviction. The term most frequently used to refer these social consequences—and appropriately so—is stigma.

A recent special report series produced by Fox 21 out of Duluth drew attention to the problem of social stigma against sex offenders, and particularly how it can prevent offenders from moving on with their lives and reintegrating back into society. The discussion is interesting not only because of the fact that it draws attention to the complexity of sexual offending and the misunderstanding the public has about the issue, but also because the discussion is taking place on a local news station, which one would expect to simply buy into the popular condemnation and stigmatization of sex offenders.

Domestic violence charges dismissed in Ray Rice case

Football fans may have heard about the most recent development in the case of former Ravens running back Ray Rice. The former NFL athlete recently had domestic violence charges dismissed, meaning his criminal record will remain clean. The dismissal came after Rice participated in a pretrial intervention program.

The charges stem from an incident last year in which Rice and his then fiancé became involved in a physical altercation. After the news broke, a video became available online which showed Rice dragging his fiancé out of an elevator and lying her on the floor. Although neither Rice nor his fiancé wanted prosecutors to move forward with the case, they did provide him the opportunity to have those charges dismissed. 

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.