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Too ‘Woke’ for the Jury Box? A Clash of Two Hashtags

A recent article in The Marshall Project scratches the surface of a dialogue whose time has come. “While potential jurors take an oath to answer questions honestly during voir dire, and there are undoubtedly some with hard biases, I suspect many socially conscious citizens overstate their positions,” writes Todd Oppenheim of the Baltimore Public Defender’s Office. “Those individuals should think carefully about whether their closely-held beliefs actually result in bias before answering questions. They should take that question more seriously because judges will almost always err on the side of caution and eliminate those on the fence—or simply posturing—from jury pools, even if they might make for good jurors. Defendants lose out as a result.” ————————————————————————- A great article, but it does not go nearly far enough.  #blacklivesmatter and the like are not the only movements that can become problematic in the jury box when a juror feels compelled to answer with depth and honesty.  People who may call themselves various forms of “progressive” increasingly share a healthy skepticism of the government, of the police.  In particular, they see profound injustice in the overall treatment of men of color by our justice system from the time of arrest all the way through the the ultimate test of justice; a jury trial.  What the article fails to address is what happens when this movement runs directly into another movement, such as the #metoo movement. Increasingly, we are a nation in which progressive advocacy groups see vindication only in guilty verdicts, and decry any other outcome as a “slap in the face to all women,” or other such hyperbole.  In order to be considered “enlightened,” one is now socially compelled to say “I believe her” from the moment allegations are spoken by an accuser.  However, many so-called “progressive” individuals who promote this sentiment likely also find favor with movements raising awareness about the disparate treatment of African Americans and other minorities at the hands of police and the larger machine of the justice system as well.   Yet, in cases of sexual assault allegations, the government’s position is essentially “you should believe her.”  So what happens when a man of color is accused of sexual assault? We have countless stories in which men of color have been exonerated of crimes by DNA or other evidence, and most of those cases are criminal sexual conduct cases.  Many of these men have sat years or decades in prison for a crime they did not commit.  In every one of those cases, the jury said “I believe her.”  We know also that when the accused is black, and the alleged victim is not, there is an even greater risk of wrongful conviction.  The fact remains our justice system is still making the exact same errors today that put these men in prison decades ago.  In most criminal sexual conduct cases, there is no biological evidence at all, and we are left with the same rules of evidence, and a question of credibility, that decide a man’s fate.  Just as racism and sexism… Read more {+}

6 things about Minnesota’s Collateral Consequences Law You Should Really Know

When making a big decision, obviously the more you know, the better. That’s especially true about a plea agreement for conduct within the reach of the state’s criminal code. Well, there are more things to consider than the statutory penalty for the criminal act — things that might affect your life for years to come. Read on for six things you should know about collateral consequences under Minn. Stat. 245C Subd. 14 & 15. Rehabilitation in Minnesota is Decades Old. In 1974, the Minnesota legislature announced the state’s policy to “encourage and contribute to rehabilitation” pathways that help criminal offenders return to roles as responsible citizens. The state introduced a series of laws that had two goals: First, rehabilitate criminal ex-offenders and the second, to protect the state’s citizens by keeping ex-offenders away from certain jobs where they were likely to hurt vulnerable people or destroy property. Forty-three years later, citizens continue to deal with the difficulty inherent in rehabilitation as a goal. What are collateral consequences? Remember, the Minnesota legislature passed laws whose secondary goal was to protect its citizenry from ex-offenders who might harm them. Current law requires that the Department of Human Services (DHS) carry-out criminal background checks on persons who apply for employment where they will have “direct contact or access” to persons receiving services in DHS facilities. DHS uses the criminal background check information to disqualify applicants on the basis of prior criminal offenses. For example, Section 245C, subsection 14, prohibits direct contact by ex-offenders who have committed felonies, gross misdemeanors, or misdemeanors. This is true whether the incarceration was through conviction, admission, or an Alford plea (that’s a guilty plea with a protest of innocence often used to plea to a lesser charge when the prosecution has enough evidence to convict on the original greater charge). The disqualification also can result from an investigation that results in an administrative finding of an offense under Section 245C.15. DHS in certain circumstances can set aside the disqualification or the license holder can issue a variance. What types of crimes are we talking about as disqualifying crimes? We are talking about permanent disqualification for persons who violate laws under Section 245C.15, such as the predatory offender registration laws, murder (first, second, and third degree), manslaughter (first and second degree), assault, domestic assault, spousal or child abuse/neglect, drug distribution that causes great bodily harm, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, murder of unborn child (first, second, and third degree). There are more but this list is illustrative. 15-year disqualification for lesser felonies. The law provides a 15-year disqualification period for crimes of a lesser nature, if the offense occurred less than 15 years ago and the offense was a felony, such as wrongfully obtaining assistance, false representation, food stamp fraud, arson (second or third degree), possessing burglary tools, insurance fraud, indecent exposure, and others. The law also imposes 10-year disqualification for gross misdemeanors where the sentence discharged less than 10 years ago and 7-year disqualification for misdemeanors where the sentence discharged less than 7 years ago. Is there an appeal… Read more {+}

Officer Ray Tensing is the Latest Officer to Walk Free

A mere two weeks after the Yanez Verdict, former University of Cincinnati Officer Ray Tensing becomes the latest Officer to walk free after a second mistrial on murder charges for killing Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man.  Like so many cases garnering recent attention, this matter was also captured on video.  Here is the primary video footage of the incident (WARNING:  Graphic Content).   The language of the County Attorney in this case was much stronger than just about any we have seen in these cases, calling is “senseless and asinine” and describing it as un-American and something that happens in Afghanistan, not here.  It remains to be seen whether the County Attorney will try the matter for yet a third time, though it is worth noting that, halfway through the trial, the County Attorney sought to add charges of “reckless homicide.”  That motion was denied by the court as untimely. Officer Ray Tensing is the Latest Officer to Walk Free was last modified: June 24th, 2017 by Alex DeMarco

St. Louis Police Officer Shoots Fellow Off Duty Officer. Guess What Color The Victim Was…

If there is one thing that should be unanimously agreed upon, it’s that the phenomenon of “driving while black” is very real.   If you disagree, it’s not your opinion.  You’re up against decades of studies, just a few which can be found by clicking here,  and here.   You’re also far more likely to have your vehicle searched if you’re a person of color. If there is another thing that is becoming apparent, it’s that being lawfully armed while black is even more dangerous.   As if the Yanez case was not a sobering enough example, apparently, even being a police officer an black while get you shot. That’s right.  An off duty cop, an African American, intervened to assist other officers after a car chase ended.  He was then ordered to drop his weapon to go to the ground.  After officers recognized him, he was allowed back up.  That’s when another officer apparently not up to speed on the circumstance emerged from his squad, “feared for his life” and immediately shot his fellow police officer.  With all the talk of gun safety and gun control, it may finally be time to start having a discussion on whether arming every single officer is a good idea.       St. Louis Police Officer Shoots Fellow Off Duty Officer. Guess What Color The Victim Was… was last modified: June 23rd, 2017 by Alex DeMarco

Agent Joe Joswiak Assaults Driver Anthony Promvongsa

Recently released is the the dashcam video from the Worthington Police Department of Agent Joe Joswiak of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force and his assault on Anthony Promvongsa, a driver.   An off duty police officer had called in  to his buddies regarding Mr. Promvongsa’s “erratic driving.”  While this may have warranted an investigatory stop and a simple interrogation or citation, apparently road rage is not simply a problem for civilians.   The assisting, relatively calm officer is Timothy Gaul, a Sargent with the Worthington Police Department.  Sargent Gaul himself as been previously accused of excessive force.   That matter was eventually settled in exchange for dropping all claims.   Sargent Gaul oversees Use of Force operations for the department.   Mr. Promvongsa was actually charged with assault on an officer and resisting arrest.  Whatever can be said of the recent Yanez verdict, at least Yanez was charged and tried for the crime.   He is also no longer a police officer.  It’s time to bring brutal officers to justice, even if that means a trial is difficult.   Mr. Yanez is one of several officers charged with crimes this year. Cutting to the chase, contact the Nobles County Attorney’s Office today and demand this officer be removed and investigated for assault. Prairie Justice Center 1530 Airport Rd. Suite 400 P.O. Box 337 Worthington, MN 56187 (507) 295-5298 (p) (507) 372-8439 (f) countyattorney@co.nobles.mn.us     Agent Joe Joswiak Assaults Driver Anthony Promvongsa was last modified: June 23rd, 2017 by Alex DeMarco