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St. Cloud Criminal Defense Law Blog

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. 

What issues may be raised at an implied consent hearing?

In our last post, we began speaking about Minnesota’s implied consent law. As we mentioned, drivers who have had their license suspended because of a refusal to submit to an alcohol test have the opportunity to contest any issues they have with their case in a judicial hearing. Such a review must be requested, so motorists and their attorneys need to take the initiative themselves.

There are certain issues that can and cannot be brought up in implied consent hearings. State statute enumerates what can be contested. Among the things which can be addressed in an implied consent hearing are: whether the law enforcement officer has probable cause to suspect the motorist of DUI; whether the arrest was lawful; whether there was a test refusal; whether the motorist was given proper notice of the consequences of refusing to take an alcohol test; the validity and reliability of the testing method; and whether the motorist has reasonable grounds to refuse testing. 

What is implied consent?

Minnesota readers have probably all heard the term, “implied consent,” perhaps in the context of DUI investigation or criminal defense. Implied consent, which is recognized in other states as well, is the principle that anybody who has a driver’s license and operates a motor vehicle is deemed to have already consented to providing a breath, blood or urine sample for purposes of determining intoxication.

Implied consent is supposed to make it easier for police officers to conduct DUI investigations. Motorists are technically not required to submit to a test unless the investigating officer has probable cause to believe the suspect was driving under the influence and the suspect: has been placed under arrest; was involved in an accident resulting in personal injury, death, or damage to property; registered a blood alcohol concentration or 0.08 or more in a preliminary breath test; or registered an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more in a preliminary breath test. Refusing to submit to a test under these conditions is a crime in Minnesota, and there are consequences for doing so. 

Controversial civil commitment program on trial

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that there are some individuals in our prisons who suffer from serious mental illnesses or other conditions which impact their ability to be law abiding citizens. One of the pathways these individuals can be sent along if they end in the criminal justice system is the mental health civil commitment program.

Those accused of a serious crime in Minnesota may be referred and approved for a civil commitment based on a handful of conditions, including mental illness, developmental disability, chemical dependency, and sexual psychopathic personality. To make sure they understand their rights, those participating in the program are able to choose whether they want to be represented by a pre-selected attorney in the civil commitment process or by their own private attorney. Although commitment in many cases is not allowed to exceed 12 months, there are some cases where commitment may be indefinite, even if subject to periodic review. 

NFL athletes and domestic violence: this time, charges dropped

Domestic violence is well-known to be a problem among professional athletes, especially football players. Given the amount of media attention, it would seem that the problem is an epidemic. As some readers may already know, though, while the rate of domestic violence arrests among football players is not impressive, it has been shown to be only slightly above the national average.

The fact that not all arrests result in charges is another factor to consider as well. Take, for example, the case of Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, who recently had domestic violence charges thrown out because prosecutors were unable to secure the cooperation of the woman who accused him of assaulting and threatening her.

Scrutinizing bad and insufficient evidence in criminal defense

Evidence is obviously a critical aspect of any criminal investigation and prosecution. Without sufficient evidence, police do not have the legal right to conduct searches and seizures, and prosecutors are not able to support the charges they pursue in court. Lack of evidence can result in a half-baked prosecution, resulting in dismissal of charges or, in cases where the evidence is more substantial but still inadequate, acquittal.

A recent criminal case out of Mankato demonstrates both the importance of evidence in criminal cases and what can happen when officers make mistakes gathering evidence. In November, police reportedly arrested a 31-year-old man after finding a white, powdery substance in his vehicle which tested positive for amphetamine. The man was charged with two counts of drug possession, but those charges were later dropped due to a more accurate test which showed the substance was actually just vitamins. The kicker is that the man spent three months in county jail, waiting for the results of the test, before the charges were dropped. 

MN Court of Appeals: McNeely rule doesn’t apply retroactively

We’ve been speaking a good deal on this blog about DWI charges and the importance of scrutinizing the way police conduct criminal investigations in these cases. As we noted last time, certain legal remedies may be available for defendants who have been subjected to an illegal search or seizure, and these can help strengthen their case.

One relatively recent Supreme Court case that shows the importance of this type of investigation is Missouri v. McNeely. That case, which came out in 2013, held that it is unconstitutional for police officers to require DWI suspects to submit to a blood test without first obtaining a warrant. That case specifically recognized there are situations where officers may not have to obtain a warrant, such as when there are multiple factors which present the risk of losing critical evidence. 

Suppressing evidence stemming from illegal search or seizure

In our last post, we began speaking about a recent Supreme Court case which concluded that police officers do not have to have a completely accurate understanding of the law in order to make valid traffic stops. As we noted, the question of whether a traffic stop, or searches and seizures in general, is properly done is an important one.

Criminal defendants who suspect that they may have been subjected to an illegal search or seizure ought to speak with an experienced criminal defendant attorney to have their case evaluated. One of the reasons for this is that a criminal defendant may be able to have evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search thrown out at trial, thus benefiting their case.  

Supreme Court lets officers off the hook for mistaken understanding of law

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided an interesting case that clarified a question that can come up, even if infrequently, in criminal defense: may police develop reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle based on a mistake of law? Established case law already holds that an officer is able to develop reasonable suspicion, or probable cause for that matter, based on a reasonable mistake of fact. But does the same principle apply to mistakes of law?

The question came up in connection with a North Carolina case in which a driver had been pulled over after an officer noticed he had a burnt out brake light. During the stop, the officer found drugs and the motorist was subsequently charged with drug trafficking. Although state law doesn’t technically require both brake lights to be in working order, the officer had assumed that having only one working light constituted a violation of the traffic code. As it turns out, that mistaken assumption was deemed to be reasonable, and for that reason the court upheld the stop.