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St. Cloud Criminal Defense Law Blog

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. 

First time DWI: what are the consequences? P.4

This is our fourth installment in a series of post dealing with the consequences of a first-time DWI conviction. In our first couple posts, we provided an overview of the criminal consequences of a first-time DWI conviction, and in our last post we briefly discussed the administrative consequences. The two sets of penalties are related, as we’ve noted, though technically separate.

We’ve taken the opportunity in these posts to discuss the penalties associated with first-time DWI charges because, for those who face such charges, understanding the potential consequences for a first time DWI conviction allows one to understand what one is up against and to avoid surprises. Hopefully, by speaking about the range of penalties involved in a first-time DWI offense, our readers will also begin to see the importance of working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. 

First time DWI: what are the consequences? P.3

In our last couple posts, we’ve been looking at the consequences of a first-time DWI charge. As we’ve pointed out, these consequences are both criminal and administrative in nature. We’ve already discussed the outlines of the criminal penalties, which depend on the first-time offender’s blood alcohol concentration, whether there was a child in the vehicle at the time of arrest, and whether a chemical test was refused.

These same factors impact the administrative sanctions imposed for first-time DWI charges. The administrative penalties for first-time DWI offenders who had a blood alcohol concentration of under 0.16 are actually partially selected by the offender. What is not optional is that driving privileges are modified for a total of 90 days. The choice, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, is between: (a) 15 days completely without driving privileges followed by limited privileges for the rest of the period; or (b) full driving privileges for the whole period, but with the use of an ignition interlock system. 

First time DWI: what are the consequences? P.2

 

In our last post, we began speaking about the potential consequences of a first-time DWI charge in Minnesota. As we began explaining in our last post, the specific consequences of a first-time DWI charge in Minnesota depend not only on the severity of the charge, but also on the specific administrative penalties applied in the case.

 

It is important for readers to understand that state law doesn’t prescribe every possible consequence of a first DWI conviction, but merely gives the outlines. Judges have a certain degree of discretion in sentencing, and this is why it is critical to work with an attorney up through the sentencing phase of the criminal defense process. 

First time DWI: what are the consequences?

Most people who are facing their first DWI charge are understandably nervous about having to navigate the court system, what the outcome of their case will be, how much they will owe in jail time or monetary penalties if convicted, how long their license will be suspended, how conviction will impact their ability to find work, and other such matters.

All of these are important questions, with the issue of the outcome of the case being a centrally important one. From a criminal defense perspective, the goal is always to do everything possible to minimize criminal charges and protect the defendant’s rights.  In the case of DWI, the specific factors involved in each case are critical in determining the possible outcome as well as how to build a strong defense. In this and future posts, we’ll be looking at the issue of the potential outcome of a first-time DWI case, assuming the defendant is ultimately convicted.  

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.