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Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyers

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Our team find the weak link in the state’s case and exploits it

Law enforcement officers very aggressively arrest suspects. In the never-ending War on Crime, the number of arrests is the only measurement of victory. Likewise, prosecutors are very aggressive in court. Convicting defendants is the only way of moving up the corporate ladder. The good news is that aggressive police and prosecutors at times take illegal shortcuts in their relentless quests to arrest and convict people.

At Gerald Miller, P.A., our professional team is equally as aggressive. Hard work is the foundation for our assertive posture. The states shortcuts often create a number of procedural defenses, as outlined below. Additionally, the state must amass overwhelming evidence to convict defendants.

Pretrial Matters

You have a number of important rights in criminal cases. Even one violation could invalidate the entire case.

Misdemeanors

Assault and DWI are two of the most common misdemeanors in Minnesota. Depending on the type of misdemeanor, these offenses can be punishable by up to one year in jail.

Felonies

A conviction for drug possession, criminal sexual conduct, or another felony usually has severe direct and collateral consequences.

Resolving a Criminal Case

Our Minnesota criminal defense lawyers are often able to resolve criminal cases out of court.

Our Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Pretrial Matters

From the stop to the filing of charging instruments in court, criminal pretrial procedure is much like a string of Christmas lights. If one bulb is removed, the whole string often goes out. So, a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer must simply find the right bulb to unscrew, or the right procedural irregularity to attack.

Reasonable Suspicion

Before they pull over motorists on the street or detain people on the sidewalk, officers must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Courts define this standard as “specific, articulable facts.” In reality, reasonable suspicion is essentially an evidence-based hunch.

Often times, especially with regard to motor vehicle stops, a traffic violation serves as reasonable suspicion. Such infractions could be non-moving violations, like an expired inspection sticker, or a moving violation, like speeding. Additionally, the Traffic Code is awash in ticky-tack violations, such as failing to stop prior to exiting a private driveway or a license plate frame which obscures the information on the plate.
Note that the traffic violation usually has nothing to do with the charged offense. For example, an officer might pull a motorist over for a burned-out taillight and arrest the motorist for DWI. In this case, the officer must also have reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. Evidence on this point includes things like erratic driving prior to the stop and the motorist’s bloodshot eyes.

Overall, reasonable suspicion is a very low standard. However, there are a few things which do not constitute reasonable suspicion, either at the initial stop phase or the investigation phase.

  • Unreliable Tip: Information provided by anonymous tipsters is generally unreliable. If the tipster did not vouch for the information, there’s no reason for a judge to give it greater weight. So, these tips usually require some independent corroboration.
  • Profiling: This illegal practice is rather hard to prove. Examples include a DWI roadblock in a predominantly nonwhite area and officers who pull over a disproportionate number of ethnic motorists.
  • Furtive Movements: When officers stop them, many people get nervous. Their eyes dart into their rearview mirrors or they dig through their glove boxes for insurance forms. Such furtive movements can be misinterpreted, and they don’t necessarily constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Reasonable suspicion shortcuts are especially common during STEP campaigns and saturation enforcement campaigns. During these efforts, police officers are redirected to a certain area of town and instructed to make as many DWI arrests or write as many speeding tickets as possible. To justify the enormous effort officers may stop vehicles without a reasonable suspicion to inflate their arrest tally.

Physical Evidence and Search Warrants

During the colonial era, British authorities used writs of assistance, which were essentially blank search warrants, to rummage through private property whenever they pleased. The Founding Fathers included the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution specifically to end this practice. Now, only judges can issue search warrants, and only if officers show probable cause. More on the probable cause standard below.

However, the Fourth Amendment only prohibits “unreasonable” warrantless searches and seizures. Over the years, courts have carved out a number of exceptions to the search warrant requirement, as follows:

  • Consent: Owners or apparent owners can voluntarily consent to property searches. Apparent owners are people like drivers who do not own the vehicle. Property includes everything from a smartphone to a house. In all cases, consent is an affirmative, voluntary, and revocable act.
  • Plain View: This exception usually comes up during the aforementioned reasonable suspicion stops. If officers are legally in a certain place (e.g. if they had reasonable suspicion), they may seize weapons, drugs, or other contraband they see in plain view.
  • Emergency Circumstances: If officers respond to a disturbance call, they may sweep through a dwelling or other building to ensure that everyone inside is safe. During such safety sweeps, they may seize any contraband they see in plain view.

Other exceptions include limited searches incident to lawful arrests, weapons pat-downs, and hot pursuit searches. Prosecutors have the burden of proof to show that the search or seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Testimonial Evidence and the Miranda Rights

Most people are familiar with confessions and other testimonial evidence, as well as the right to remain silent and other Miranda rights. But many people do not realize how broad these words are.

Testimony applies to more than oral statements. The right to remain silent also includes the right to refrain from certain conduct. Everyone must comply with basic “step out of the car” police commands. Other than that, however, the Fifth Amendment applies.

Additionally, police officers must administer the Miranda rights before custodial interrogation begins. Let’s look at these terms more closely.

  • Custody: The c-word does not mean handcuffs clinking or a cell door closing. Rather, custody begins when reasonable people do not feel free to leave. Frequently, when people see flashing lights in their mirrors, they do not feel free to leave.
  • Interrogation: Skilled investigators know how to interrogate suspects without asking questions. They also know how to extract damaging information from seemingly innocuous inquiries. So, as a rule of thumb, before officers say anything, they should arguably read suspects their rights.

Much like consent to search, an assertion of your Miranda rights must also be clear and unequivocal. Suspects must say something like “I am asserting my Constitutional rights” or “I refuse to say or do anything until I talk to a lawyer.”

Probable Cause

Minnesota courts have never defined this standard of evidence, which is the standard for an arrest. However, it is somewhere between reasonable suspicion, which was discussed above, and beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard for guilt or innocence.

Let’s return to the DWI example. Evidence like an odor of alcohol and bloodshot eyes, at best, only proves recent consumption. It does not prove intoxication, which is a loss of mental or physical faculties due to excess alcohol consumption.

The probable cause standard requires more. In most cases, the “more” comes from the walk and turn and other field sobriety tests. These tests are scientifically designed to detect alcohol intoxication.

Misdemeanors

These infractions are punishable by up to 90 days or year in jail, depending on the type of misdemeanor. Although the direct consequences are somewhat low, do not be deceived. Any time served in jail is a very long time. Additionally, many misdemeanors have collateral consequences which, in many cases, are worse than the direct consequences.

Assault

Ordinary assault and domestic battery are two of the most commonly charged misdemeanors in Hennepin County. Typically, both infractions are verbal arguments which got a little too heated. Frequently, alcohol is involved as well.

Essentially, ordinary assault is the statutory equivalent of common-law battery. That offense is a harmful or offensive touch. Physical injury is not a requirement. Any touch suffices. Physical injury simply makes the offense easier to prove in court. Malice is not a requirement either. Prosecutors must simply prove the touch was offensive (i.e. not accidental).

Assault is a crime of moral turpitude which could have immigration and naturalization consequences.

In terms of criminal law, domestic assault is the same offense as ordinary assault. However, these cases are different because a family or household member must be the victim. Therefore, things like probation conditions are often unique. Additionally, domestic assault has significant collateral consequences.

Furthermore, police officers in most jurisdictions must share protective order information with alleged domestic assault victims. Typically, judges issue ex parte protective orders based on the alleged victim’s affidavit. After a full hearing, they may expand the order both in terms of length and content. A  protective order might last up to two years. Additional orders could include surrendering firearms, vacating a shared residence, and paying financial support.

In addition to reckless conduct, other assault-like offenses include stalking, violating a protective order, and criminal trespass. These are all misdemeanors at the very least.

Consulting an accomplished Assault lawyer in Minnesota is crucial to understanding your case and protecting your rights.

Theft

Normally, theft is the taking of property without the effective consent of the owner. Taking property is not synonymous with removing it. Moving an item from the regular rack to the discount rack constitutes theft. So does keeping rental property past the due date and joyriding in someone else’s car.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor. Prosecutors can upgrade charges to grand theft, which is a felony, based on the value of the item or its membership in a certain category. For example, auto theft is always grand theft, regardless of the car’s value.

Robbery, which is theft plus force or the threat of force, is a felony.

Depending on the case facts, a Theft lawyer in Minnesota may be able to defend you and get positive outcomes.

Felonies

All felonies have severe direct and collateral consequences. A conviction could mean confinement in the state penitentiary. A conviction could also mean the inability to vote, own firearms, and exercise other privileges.

Aggravated Assault

Whenever possible, prosecutors upgrade misdemeanor assault charges to felony charges based on the following facts:

  • Manner of Assault: It is a felony to use a dangerous weapon during an assault. Almost any household object, such as a frying pan or a TV remote, could be a dangerous weapon in some situations.
  • Extent of Injury: As mentioned, physical injury is not an element of misdemeanor assault. But it could be an element of aggravated assault. Voluntary intoxication is a defense to these infractions. Legally, intoxicated people may not commit specific intent crimes (the defendant intends both the conduct, which in this case is hitting someone, and the result, which is serious injury).
  • Victim’s Identity: Most government employees, such as police officers and probation officers, are in a protected class if they are discharging their official duties. Furthermore, police officers moonlighting as security guards are not discharging their official duties, even if they are in uniform.

Assault victims cannot “drop” charges. It does not matter if the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or felony. These individuals are only witnesses in criminal cases, and witnesses do not have such authority. Only the state has the power to voluntarily and arbitrarily dismiss charges.

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Like many other jurisdictions, Minnesota has several different levels of criminal sexual conduct. They are rather complex, but here they are in a nutshell:

  • Fifth Degree: This is the only type of CSC that can be a gross misdemeanor and involves non-consensual sexual contact or indecent exposure in front of a minor under the age of 16.
  • Fourth Degree: Probation is possible for this felony offense, which is usually either statutory rape or sexual conduct without penetration. Minnesota does not have a Romeo and Juliet exception. If two 15-year-olds engage in consensual sex, they could both face CSC charges.
  • Third Degree: Unconsented sexual penetration is a felony which carries a mandatory prison sentence. This offense also applies to situational CSC, such as an incapacitated victim or a psychotherapist taking advantage of a patient.
  • Second Degree: This form of unconsented sexual assault usually involves force, or the imminent threat of force, and any violence without penetration. Second degree CSC charges could also involve statutory rape.
  • First Degree: The most serious CSC offense carries a presumptive twelve years in prison and a maximum thirty years. It is sexual penetration of a person under 13. The penetration could be with something other than a sex organ.

Minnesota law defines consent as a present, voluntary agreement to engage in certain sexual conduct. A Minnesota criminal defense lawyer may use circumstantial evidence to establish consent.

Sex offenses that require registration also include indecent exposure, possession of illegal pornography, and online sex crimes. Indecent exposure is normally a misdemeanor. Pornography possession charges usually involve search and seizure issues, which were discussed above. Online solicitation of a minor could involve the entrapment defense.

Depending on the risk of re-offense, a sex crime conviction could mean Level I, Level II, or Level III registration. Level I information is not publicly available. At a subsequent hearing, a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer could lower the rating and therefore ease the registration requirements. Most offenders must register for at least ten years.

If you’re involved in a criminal sexual conduct case, you may turn to a Minnesota Sex Crimes defense attorney for help.

How Do Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyers Resolve a Criminal Case

Thorough preparation is usually the key to a successful resolution. The more procedural or substantive defenses that a Minnesota criminal defense attorney locates, the easier it is to resolve the case.

Plea Bargains

Most judicial cases, whether they are civil or criminal, settle out of court. These settlements end the case sooner and give the participants more control over the outcome. Contrary to popular myth, making a plea bargain is not like surrendering. It’s simply a negotiated pretrial settlement. Most such settlements involve one or both of the following:

  • Sentence Reduction: Probation instead of jail time is the most obvious example of a sentence reduction. A Minnesota criminal defense lawyer can also reduce the length of incarceration or court supervision, largely depending on the facts of the case, the input of any victim, and the defendant’s criminal record.
  • Charge Reduction: Reducing a felony to a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor is the most common form of charge reduction. That could be reducing aggravated assault charges to ordinary assault or grand theft to petty theft. Charge reduction affects both direct and collateral consequences. For example, an attorney could reduce DWI charges to careless driving. This offense does not have the same collateral consequences, such as drivers’ license suspension, as DWI.

Procedurally, Minnesota criminal defense attorneys negotiate with prosecutors. Then, the attorney conveys the offer to the defendant along with a recommendation to accept or reject it.

Trials

Less than 10 percent of all criminal cases go to trial. However, a good Minnesota criminal defense attorney always assumes the case will go to trial. That posture ensures thorough preparation. The trial could be:

  • Bench Trial: The judge serves as both legal referee and factfinder. Bench trials are less time-consuming and more predictable than jury trials. A bench trial in a misdemeanor might last less than an hour. And, it’s much easier to predict how a judge will react to evidence as opposed to the way strangers will view it.
  • Jury Trial: Typically, misdemeanor trials have six jurors and felony trials have twelve jurors. Jury trials take much longer than bench trials and their results are almost impossible to predict. Pretrial focus groups and mock juries are immensely helpful to Minnesota criminal defense attorneys.

In both jury trials and bench trials, the factfinder must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a standard of evidence discussed above. Jury verdicts must be unanimous in Minnesota.

Our Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer Elaborates on Post-Trial Matters

The case does not end just because the judge’s gavel falls. In fact, in many situations, the case is just beginning.

Probation Violations

To stay out of jail or prison, the defendant must comply with a number of supervisory conditions which vary in different jurisdictions. Some common ones include:

  • Reporting to a probation officer,
  • Paying money, like fines, restitution, and fees,
  • Avoiding further convictions,
  • Remaining in the county,
  • Working and/or attending school full time, and
  • Avoiding “disreputable” people and places.

Most probation violations involve either a failure to report or a new conviction, but other technical violations are not uncommon.
Out-of-court settlement possibilities include an extension of the period of probation and serving a few days in jail as a condition of reinstatement.

Criminal Appeals

Appealing an adverse trial result is difficult, but certainly not impossible. Courts have consistently held that a defendant is entitled to a fair trial, but not a perfect one. Many appeals cite technical flaws which made the trial unfair. Some common flaws include:

  • Prosecutor’s failure to timely turn over exculpatory evidence,
  • Judge’s failure to move the proceedings to a neutral location,
  • Juror misconduct, such as jurors who do their own research into the case,
  • Improper jury selection, and
  • Illegal jury arguments.

Lack of evidence might also be a basis for appeal. As mentioned, the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a very high standard. If there is any indication that the judge or jury relied on anything other than the evidence, a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer has a good chance to overturn the verdict.

Ineffective assistance of counsel is another possible ground for appeal. The lawyer must have been so bad that the representation fell below the standard of care. Examples of such incompetency include an unlicensed lawyer or a lawyer who was under the influence of a substance during the trial.

Minnesota Criminal Defense FAQs

Most private criminal defense attorneys charge fees according to the amount of time involved in the case and their experience level. The state usually pays public interest lawyers, like public defenders and court-appointed lawyers.

A criminal defense lawyer is an attorney and a counsellor. That means a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer challenges the state’s evidence and stands up for your legal rights. As a counsellor, your lawyer gives you solid advice about your legal options.

The exact cost varies according to the complexity of the case, the attorney’s experience level, and a few other factors. You do not want the cheapest one.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases. A lawyer stands up for your rights in court and serves as your negotiating agent during settlement talks.

Criminal defense usually involves a procedural defense, like an invalid search warrant, or a substantive defense, such as a lack of evidence.

That is certainly a matter of opinion. Generally, the best Minnesota criminal defense lawyers are experienced attorneys who are dedicated to the practice of criminal law and have a clear vision for your defense in a specific case.

Typically, if the infraction includes possible jail or prison time, self-representation is a very bad idea. A lawyer is a highly-trained advocate, and a lawyer also knows all the written and unwritten procedural and evidentiary rules.

Look for an attorney who has substantial criminal trial experience, is located near your home or office, is not too busy to give your case the proper attention, and is dedicated to the practice of criminal defense.

Proven Lawyers, Proven Results

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