Friday, December 30, 2011

2011's Most Interesting MN Supreme Court Ruling on a Criminal Defense Appeal

One of my favorite things to do when I have a few extra minutes (usually over my morning coffee) is to head over to the MN Supreme Court rulings and read through the recent criminal defense appeals that have gone to a decision.  This is a great way for Minnesota criminal defense attorneys to stay up to date on the ever-changing precedents regarding criminal defense, while at the same time learning some do's and don'ts of representing clients.

My favorite case of the year was the review of a conviction of a Minneapolis man for aiding and abetting first degree premeditated murder for the benefit of a gang.  The case involved a drive by shooting perpetrated allegedly by one gang against another.  The usual appeals were present (insufficient assistance of counsel, statutory bar of conviction, insufficient evidence, etc...), but what made this case so interesting was that the principle party who fired the shots was only convicted of 2nd degree murder, whereas his accomplice was convicted of aiding and abetting first degree murder.  The reasonable assumption is that if the actual murderer was found to have not committed 1st degree murder, his accomplice could therefore not be found to have aided and abetted such a crime.

This was the argument made by the appellant's attorney, citing Minn.Stat. 609.05, claiming that it precluded the appellant's conviction of this specific crime.  Unfortunately, the statute does the exact opposite of that, in that it expressly prohibits such a charge under these circumstances.  The pertinent section reads,

"person liable for the crimes of another may be charged with and convicted of the crime although the person who directly committed it has not been convicted, or has been convicted of some other degree of the crime or of some other crime based on the same act."

Clearly, Minnesota statutory law was in favor of the state in this situation, meaning that the appellant's attorney was likely grasping at straws with this objection.  The eyewitness evidence was pretty overwhelming in this case, and both the appellant and his attorney were likely doing whatever they could think of to get his sentence reduced from life without possibility of release to something involving the possibility of parole.

Other interesting nuggets from this case involve how differently juries and judges can see the same facts.  In the trial for the trigger-man, the defense elected for a bench trial.  The judge in that case concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove premeditation on the part of the shooter, as well as to prove the group he was a member of qualified as a "gang" under the relevant Minnesota statute.  Given the exact same facts (presumably), the jury in the accomplice's trial found sufficient evidence to support both of those claims, making a conviction at the level of 1st degree murder easier to justify.  In cases like this where there is the possibility of a high amount of prejudice against the defendant and a high level of emotion, it would not be unreasonable for the defense to ask for a bench trial as opposed to a jury trial.  Jury's tend to feed off the emotion of the proceedings more than will a judge, who has made impartiality his living.

This case illustrates just how complicated and nuanced criminal cases can be, and how important it is to have a competent criminal defense attorney on your side.  While not every case has the repercussions of a murder trial, there is no such thing as a minor criminal conviction.  Any conviction can cost you privileges, freedom, and the ability to gain employment, so regardless of what crime you are being charged with, be sure to contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney immediately to set up a plan of action regarding your case.  Doing so could be the difference in guilt or innocence.

If you want to read more MN appellate court rulings, check out  Here you can find both Court of Appeals rulings as well as Supreme Court rulings.

Here's hoping everybody has a happy, safe, and crime-free New Year!

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