Published Cases from the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court:
State v. Burrell
Ms. Burrell was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed case to determine whether certain individuals could be released to reduce the population at the prison. Ms. Burrell was released and lived in the community for a significant period of time. The Attorney General’s Office eventually sought to have Ms. Burrell returned to the prison. I argued that Ms. Burrell had proven she did not need to return to prison and asked to have her sentenced modified to grant her probation. The district court disagreed and remanded her to prison. I appealed and unfortunately the Court of Appeals agreed with the district court.
978 N.W.2d 271 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022)
State v. Quintin Thomas
Mr. Thomas was charged with second degree driving while impaired. The changes required the state to prove that Mr. Thomas had two prior qualified D.W.I. convictions or alcohol related license revocations. A criminal defendant is allowed to stipulate to his prior convictions to keep that evidence away from the jury. Mr. Thomas did not stipulate to his priors so the state was required to prove that he had the required prior convictions or license revocations. The state rested their case without offering evidence of Mr. Thomas’s priors. The defense moved for a judgment of acquittal. The state moved to reopen their case to present the evidence they forgot to enter into evidence. The Supreme Court held that it was not an abuse of discretion to allow the state to reopen their case to present the evidence of the prior convictions.
891 N.W.2d 612 (Minn. 2017)
State v. Chavez-Nelson
Mr. Chavez-Nelson was convicted of first degree murder following a jury trial in Dakota County. The allegation was that Mr. Chavez-Nelson shot and killed the victim after the two had a disagreement in a bar. The main issue on appeal was whether the district court made a mistake when it denied Mr. Chavez-Nelson request to have advisory counsel assume full representation of his case. The Six Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to an attorney. A criminal defendant also has a right to represent themselves. Here Mr. Chavez-Nelson initially decided to represent himself. Given the nature of the charges, the district court appointed advisory counsel to help Mr. Chavez-Nelson. Before the start of jury selection, Mr. Chavez-Nelson asked that advisory counsel take over and represent him for the remainder of the trial. The district court denied the request and eventually Mr. Chavez-Nelson agreed to have his original court appointed attorneys take over. The Minnesota Supreme determined that based on the language of the rule, the district court was wrong and should have appointed advisory counsel to take over the case. The Supreme Court determined that the error was harmless.
882 N.W. 2d 579 (Minn. 2016)
State v. Roger Holland
Mr. Holland was convicted of two counts of first degree murder following a jury trial in Dakota County. The State believed Mr. Holland killed his pregnant wife in their townhouse and tried to set up an alibi for himself. The main issue on appeal was the seizure of Mr. Holland’s cell phone. The Fourth Amendment protects a person against unreasonable searches and seizures. The case here involved the police officer seizing Mr. Holland’s cell phone at the scene of the investigation and later searching it. I argued that the warrantless seizure of the cell phone was improper. The Supreme Court found that there was probable cause to seize the phone under the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment.
865 N.W.2d 666 (Minn. 2015)
State v. Jones
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Jones went to trial on charges of murder, criminal sexual conduct, controlled substances charge, and child neglect. Jones was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, controlled substance (providing drugs to a minor), and child neglect charges following a trial in Dakota County. The court imposed a sentence that was longer than the sentencing guidelines required, which is called an aggravated departure. Jones appealed and the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction but remanded for sentencing based on a recently decided case, Blakely v. Washington, which held that any fact that the district court uses to impose a sentence that is longer than the guideline sentence must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury. At a hearing back before the trial court, the judge used an element of the child neglect offense to impose a durational departure. I became involved in the case at this time and appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. I petitioned the Supreme Court for review, which was granted. The Supreme Court agreed with my argument that it was improper to use a part of the child neglect statute to impose an aggravated departure. This was a significant case for the defense. The child neglect charge was a low-level felony that carried a penalty far shorter than the departure the judge had ordered. If the Supreme Court had not reversed, prosecutors would have charged every single offense possible and would then argue for sentencing departures based on any element for which there was a conviction.
745 N.W.2d 845 (Minn. 2008)
State v. Farrah
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Farrah was not born in Minnesota and he spoke and understood very little English. Minnesota has a statute that requires an interpreter for a person who is handicapped in communication. Farrah was arrested at the scene and taken to the police station in Minneapolis. There, he read a Miranda warning, but there was no interpreter. Farrah indicated he did not speak English, but the officer went ahead with the interrogation. Farrah was charged with Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. At trial, his attorney tried to keep his statement out, but he was unsuccessful. On appeal, I successfully argued that the statement should not have been admitted at trial and his conviction was reversed.
735 N.W.2d 336 (Minn. 2007)
State v. Smith
Smith was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in St. Paul. There is a general rule in the courts that you can’t use a person’s prior bad acts to show they did something wrong in the current case. The State was able to enter into evidence a photo of Smith with a handgun at a time prior to the offense he was on trial for. The prosecutor argued that the photograph was relevant because Smith carried guns. This is exactly what the rules prohibit. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed his conviction.
749 N.W.2d 88 (Minn. Ct. App. 2008)
State v. Ferguson
Ferguson was convicted of first-degree murder after a jury trial. The evidence at trial was that Ferguson and a couple of other people went to a person’s apartment in Minneapolis, kicked in the door and opened fire, killing one person and injuring two other people. The case had an unusual history because I had to stay the appeal and ask for a hearing based on a recanting witness. The district court denied my motion for a new trial without a hearing and that issue was also part of the appeal. While I didn’t win, the Supreme Court did keep the possibility of a post-conviction hearing open if Ferguson could provide a more detailed, sworn recantation from the witness.
742 N.W.2d 651 (Minn. 2007)
State v. Martinez
Martinez was convicted of first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a gang during an incident in Minneapolis. This was a direct appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. At Martinez’s trial a coconspirator, who had testified at an earlier trial, refused to testify at Martinez’s trial. The coconspirator’s testimony was admitted into Martinez’s trial. I argued that this was an error, but the Supreme Court did not agree. I also argued that there was an error based on the admission of a gang expert. A gang expert is usually an investigator who testifies as to his experience with gangs, how they operate, and explain gang culture to the jury. I argued that this testimony was improper, but the Supreme Court did not agree. I did successfully argue that there was an error in Mr. Martinez’s sentences, so the case was remanded for resentencing.
,725 N.W.2d 733 (Minn. 2007)
State v. Christopherson
Christopherson was charged with criminal sexual conduct in Goodhue county for having sex with an underage girl. He was sentenced and placed on probation. A person on probation has court-ordered conditions that they have to follow. If they don’t follow the conditions they can end up in prison. Christopherson violated probation and ended up in prison. At the probation violation hearing, the court imposed a conditional release term. Conditional release was relatively new at this time. It is essentially an extended period of parole. Conditional release terms are now longer and more common. A person convicted of felony DWI can be subject to a conditional release term. Christopherson moved to withdraw his plea based on the court imposing the conditional release term when he went to prison. The Court of Appeals did not allow him to withdraw his plea.
644 N.W.2d 507 (Minn. Ct. App. 2002)
State v. Hoppe
Hoppe had too much to drink at the local bar and went to his car to sleep it off in the parking lot, which would seem to be a reasonable, common sense thing to do. However, Minnesota law does not just prohibit drinking and driving. Minnesota law prohibits a person from being in physical control of a motor vehicle, which generally means can the person get the car going. Mr. Hoppe was in the driver’s seat with the keys in his pocket. A jury convicted him of gross misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. On appeal, this was looking like a tough case for the defense, until I got to the prosecutor’s closing argument. Prosecutors are ministers of justice. They are not supposed to seek convictions at all costs. When a prosecutor violates the rules it is called prosecutorial misconduct. In this case, the prosecutor violated multiple rules during his closing argument. The Court of Appeals agreed with my arguments and reversed Hoppe’s conviction.
641 N.W.2d 315 (Minn. Ct. App. 2002).