Thursday, April 26, 2012

Amy Senser Trial Continues...

Since writing about Amy Senser's trial before it began last week, I've been getting a few emails from people with questions regarding the actual trial itself.  I thought I would touch on a few of these quickly today before sending out the final installment of the "Know Your Rights" series tomorrow.

Again, my opinion on this trial is just that; opinion.  I have no inside information about the case.  I do not know Eric Nelson (Senser's defense attorney), nor do I know the prosecutors on the case.  I'm simply looking at this from the point of view of a Minnesota criminal defense attorney and opining on it as I see fit.

I've been getting emails for the past 2 days regarding the strategy behind Joe Senser's testimony.  A few people have noted to me that his testimony seems to be against his wife as opposed to in favor of her.  I'm not so sure this is the truth.  Some of his testimony this morning (4/26) may seem a bit peculiar, but it appears to be very carefully crafted, to me.  He testified that his wife is "fiercely independent" and that it was not uncommon for her to get lost/flake out/do her own thing.  This sounds like he's ripping on his wife, but what he's really doing is helping her to make the case that she just didn't know what had happened.  If she's a cold, calculating, reliable person, it makes it harder for the defense to suggest that she simply didn't know that she hit a person with her vehicle that night.  By painting her as an aloof, self-serving, flaky person, the defense can more easily make the claim that she didn't have actual knowledge that what she hit was a person, nor would she have considered stopping to investigate.  Remember, the issue at trial isn't whether she hit the victim.  The issue is whether she knew she hit the victim.  Joe Senser's testimony isn't going to do his wife any favors in regard to the negligence charge against her (inattentiveness is not a defense to negligence), but it will help her in the charges against her regarding leaving the scene of an accident which she knowingly may have resulted in significant bodily harm or death to another person.

Joe Senser's Wednesday testimony did even more to help her wife, despite his claim that he "knew" that she had hit more than a traffic barrel.  Joe Senser's understanding of the situation is, again, not what is at issue.  His testimony furthered the theory that Amy Senser was adamant that she couldn't have struck a person.  She was steadfast in her claims to her husband that she hit construction equipment, even after seeing a report on television of the deadly accident.  His skepticism aside, his recounting of her reaction to the incident lends to the defense's case.  So, while Joe Senser's testimony may not shine the most flattering light on his wife's personality, it has gone a long way towards helping Amy Senser and her attorney poke holes in the prosecution's case.

The most difficult thing for any prosecutor to prove is the intent/knowledge of a defendant.  It's not always that difficult to prove that a certain event occurred, but a major element of nearly every criminal charge is mens rea, which is Latin for "guilty mind."  In the Amy Senser trial, the mens rea necessary to prove is that Mrs. Senser knew she hit a person and made a conscious decision to leave the scene and continue driving.  The strategy of the prosecution has been to use circumstantial evidence to piece together the events of the evening and make an appeal to the jury to put themselves in Amy Senser's shoes.  Basically, they want the jury to ask themselves "If I was driving 50 mph and struck a person, wouldn't I know that I did it?"  The psychology behind this is that people (in general) like to rate themselves against others.  If you can get them to put themselves in the shoes of Amy Senser, they're going to want to believe they would have acted properly in this situation.  You want them to think "I would have stopped," or "I wouldn't have hit the person in the first place."  If the prosecution can accomplish this goal, they greatly increase their chances of getting a guilty verdict.

With the trial winding down, I suppose it's time to offer up my opinion on how things will end.  I believe that it's going to be difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Amy Senser left the scene of an accident that she knew resulted in the severe bodily harm or death to another person.  I think the circumstantial evidence is impressive, but ultimately, circumstantial evidence doesn't usually win trials.  Without a witness who can testify to her knowledge, all the prosecution has is circumstantial evidence.  The appearance of the vehicle, the missing text messages, the failure to pick up her daughter, and her erratic behavior following the incident likely won't be enough to slam the door on this case.  I think Mrs. Senser is acquitted of all three felony charges against her.  If she is convicted of anything, it will be the gross negligence charge.  Negligence is always an easier charge to get to stick because it is so all-encompassing.  I think the task in front of the prosecutors is just a little too daunting.  I believe their strategy has been sound throughout, but I feel like this specific charge is extremely difficult to prove.

Amy Senser isn't the only person in this state facing criminal charges.  If you or a loved one have been charged or may soon be charged with a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony charge, do what Amy Senser did and call or email a Minnesota criminal defense attorney to get someone on your side.

As always, content on the Minnesota Criminal Defense Blog is not intended to be viewed as legal advice or legal advertising.  Use of this website does not create an attorney/client privilege between the author and the reader.  If you are in need of legal advice, call or email a Minnesota criminal law attorney to get personalized advice tailored to your exact situation.


  1. I'm sure you're aware that in the court of public opinion other rules apply. There is a belief that because Senser can afford an expensive attorney, she's getting "off" through legal tricks. If she gets "off", she'll almost be like another Casey Anthony or George Zimmerman, although not quite as extreme, but the public will always see her as the woman who ran down a man and left him to die on the pavement and offered him no help. In a sense, even though she might get "off," and won't have to serve prison time, her sentence in the court of public opinion will be far worse and last far longer than if she had to serve a few years in prison. This is why people are so angry about this trial, including me, because Senser is not taking any moral responsibility of causing a man's death and not even calling 911. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between all the legal jargon and this law says this and that law says this, and listening to all the pre-rehearsed testimony that Senser knew she hit someone and ran away like a coward. She is using the legal system to avoid taking responsibility for her actions. And if it was me, I couldn't live with myself. I couldn't live with myself if I had to resort to the legal tricks just to stay out of jail. I am morally and legally accountable if I cause someone's death. Do you agree?

  2. Margaret - I can't comment on the conclusion you come to, but I believe your thoughts are very accurate. Public opinion is not often swayed by decisions of the court. I'm not sure she's "using the legal system" in this instance, as the defendant is not the person who decides what they are charged with. The prosecution chose to charge this specific crime knowing full well that it's hard to prove what someone did or didn't know. As a defense attorney, you try not to worry as much about concerns like this and instead work hard to make sure that your client's rights are protected and that the police/prosecution are kept honest. I would have to imagine that, for most people, the guilt they feel for being involved in the death of another person is a stronger punishment than anything the justice system can throw at them. Whether or not Amy Senser is found guilty of the crimes she's charged with, she'll have to go through life knowing that her actions (or in-actions, depending on how you look at it) caused the death of another person. Even if it was an accident, I'd think that's tough to deal with.

  3. Thanks for your answer. I'm the biggest advocate for the defense, but AFFORDABLE defense. Most people cannot afford adequate representation, which is why someone like me, if I was involved in a hit and run, could not afford to be represented and I would be in jail. But now I know if I happen to mow someone down with my car and kill them, and then leave the scene, I won't need a lawyer, all I have to say is, "Hey, I didn't know I hit a person!" Awesome. Saves me a ton of money on an attorney. :-( Sorry, I'm so sarcastic, but this whole case p***** me off.