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St. Cloud Criminal Defense Law Blog

How do facts play into the criminal process? P.2

In our previous post, we began speaking about the role of facts in Minnesota criminal cases, an admittedly rather broad topic. What we would like to speak briefly about here is really the role of a criminal defense attorney in building up and handling a criminal defendant’s case, from the standpoint of facts.

From a criminal defense perspective, there is certainly a concern for facts, just as there is for police conducting criminal investigations and for prosecutor’s pursuing charges. The task of a criminal defense attorney, though, is not to deal solely with the facts, but to deal with the facts in the context of the adversarial process. The overall goal of a criminal defense attorney is to protect the rights of the accused. Presenting evidence in court is part of this, but not the whole of it. 

How do facts play into the criminal process?

"Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts." These famous words attributed to Joe Friday embody both the ideal and the challenge of police investigation of criminal suspects, and are a major concern of the overall criminal process. Unfortunately, police investigations can sometimes be lacking both in the will to obtain just the facts and the ability to do so. In addition, sorting out the facts at trial is dependent on the limitations of the adversarial process and the accused really need have expert guidance.

The challenges of factuality in police investigation are particularly evident when it comes to cases involving domestic violence and allegations of sexual assault. Because of the nature of incidents giving rise to allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, police are often faced with the challenge of sorting out contradictory statements regarding the events under investigation. In domestic violence cases, confusion may arise over whether physical contact was a matter of self-defense or aggression. In sexual assault cases, the issue of consent can often cause confusion as to whether allegations of rape are genuine. These, of course, are only some of the potential factual challenges. 

Social stigma of rape allegations should be met with strong criminal defense

Those who have taken a look at our firmsite know that, as experienced criminal defense attorneys, we are very well aware of the social stigma caused by allegations of rape and other sex offenses. The recent accusations against Bill Cosby should be a reminder of this stigma. In Cosby’s case, stories of sexual assault have been circulating despite the fact that no criminal charges have been filed. It isn't clear yet whether he will end up facing any criminal charges, but in many minds, he is already guilty.

One of the unfortunate consequences that can arise from widespread media coverage is that it can render it more difficult for a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial. There are ways to mitigate the negative consequences of media coverage, but in cases where the media coverage is particularly widespread, it can be a real challenge. 

Peterson appeals lengthy suspension

Minnesota readers are all aware of the recent events surrounding Adrian Peterson, who was indicted in September on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. The events underlying those charges occurred earlier this year. Although the NFL initially responded to the situation with a single-game suspension, he was subsequently suspended for the entire season without pay. At this point, he is not able to be considered for reinstatement until April 15 of next year.

Peterson, as per his rights under the NFL contract, is opting to appeal the suspension in hopes of returning to play for the Vikings this season. Peterson apparently plans to appeal the decision on the grounds that the league did not provide due process in the decision as required by the collective bargaining agreement. In addition, the NFL Players Association, which represents players in negotiations under the collective bargaining agreement, is demanding that a neutral party be appointed to oversee the process rather than Commissioner Roger Goodell. 

County attorney to appeal sexual assault sentence of former officer

In criminal law, advocacy doesn’t end once a court renders a decision regarding conviction. In cases where a guilty verdict is reached, advocacy extends through the sentencing phase and, if necessary, through appeals as well.

A case involving a former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of the sexual assault of minor will reportedly be going through the appeals process. The former police officer reached a plea deal earlier this year involving a 2 ½ year sentence. The case is being appealed by the Anoka County Attorney’s Office on the grounds that the sentenced issued by the district court judge who handled the case was too lenient. 

False charges of domestic violence can be destructive

Those who pay attention to the headlines know that it is easy to write sympathetic stories about domestic victims. After all, domestic violence is a terrible reality that destroys many lives in the United States. But there is another side to the story of domestic violence: accusations of abuse are not always genuine, and can also be disruptive and destructive to those who are falsely accused.

The story of former Timberwolves guard Dante Cunningham is a good example of this. Cunningham was accused back in April of choking his girlfriend of several months during an altercation. From the start, Cunningham denied the domestic violence allegations, but it did no good. Cunningham was arrested as soon as police found him at his home, without even having his version of the story investigated. His ex was even able to obtain a restraining order, which she subsequently accused him of violating without any evidence.

Prosecutors drop charges against Moorhead man after botched investigation

Last month, Clark County in northern Minnesota paid back a former criminal defendant a total of $9,928 and his Corvette, which had been impounded during a police investigation. The 26-year-old man had apparently been subjected to a traffic stop for reckless driving back in June. He was ultimately cited for having a suspended license, but police decided to impound his vehicle. It wasn't until after the vehicle was impounded that officers found the cash and 4 ½ pounds of marijuana.

Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges because police had seized the items illegally. State law, following a recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision, does not allow police officers to seize property by forfeiture prior to a conviction. In this case, the seizure was illegal because officers found the items after the vehicle was impounded. 

High Court to decide whether police need warrant to search hotel registries

The integrity of police searches and seizures is an important issue in criminal law, not only because of the potential threats to the privacy of suspects but also because of the potential of an illegal search or seizure to positively benefit a defendant’s case. Because of this, criminal defense attorney have to keep up-to-date on changes in law both at the federal and state levels.

Readers may remember that the nation’s highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court, issued a decision over the summer that police generally need to have a warrant in order to look at data on a criminal suspect’s cell phone. Now, the high court has agreed to take a case involving the issue of whether police officers may search hotel and motel guest registries without obtaining a warrant. 

Should I submit to a breath test during a drunk-driving arrest?

One of the questions people sometimes have for criminal defense attorneys is whether or not one should submit to a chemical test when one is pulled over on suspicion of DUI. It is a good question, and it might be helpful to clarify the bases on which DUI charges can rest. From there, the question of refusing a test might be clarified.

There are various circumstances under which police can make an arrest for DUI, but two are quite common. The first is when an individual is suspected of compromising their ability to operate a motor vehicle safety due to alcohol intoxication. From the time officers first suspect an individual of driving under the influence, they gather as many observations as possible to support that conclusion, including all traffic violations and the appearance and demeanor of the driver. If enough of these observations pile up, police can gain probable cause to make an arrest, which can then support criminal charges. 

State drug charges against shop owner dropped

A business owner who had faced nine felony charges from the state in connection to the sale of synthetic drugs out of his Superior shop has reportedly had those charges dropped. The reason for the dismissal of the charges is not, however, due to lack of evidence but because the man has already been convicted on 51 federal drug charges and sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison without parole. The state apparently feels he has been sufficiently penalized.

The man is currently appealing his sentence, so the case is not yet over. Charges against his son are also being dropped for the same reason—he has been convicted at the federal level and sentenced to three years of probation. The man’s former girlfriend, who was also implicated in the allegations, is also filing an appeal of a five-year sentence.