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How to Know > Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?

Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?

Do You Need a Lawyer?

When it comes to criminal law, most people have been fortunate never to have ask themselves that question.  We do not expect the unexpected.  How do you know when, “I need a lawyer!”

Value of Keeping Your Public Criminal Records Clean

With no public criminal record, your potential future employers won’t be scared off by a criminal conviction.  You could be disqualified from certain occupational licenses  in the event you were convicted of a crime.   Certain convictions can also result in: loss of civil rights, such as voting and firearms rights; removal and deportation from the U.S.; denial of naturalization; loss of student financial aid; loss of housing; offender registration, and other negative consequences.

For many, the largest, quantifiable impact will be to future income stream.   How can a criminal conviction affect your future income?  If you assume a person is age 30 and will work until 70, that is 40 years. Multiply 40 years times a conservative $20,000 estimated reduction in annual income as the result of a conviction.  That would amount to $800,000.  At eight percent interest per year, that would be over one million dollars in lost income by age 70. I have had clients suffer a $45,000 per year reduction in income while an expungement proceeding was pending in court, so the real number could be in the millions, depending upon career path.

Is Jail or Prison Time Probable if Convicted? 

If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, there may be a threat of jail or even prison time.  Even for minor crimes, jail can be a real threat, when a person has prior convictions.  The maximum possible incarceration term specified in the criminal statute charged is rarely executed.  In felony cases, the Minnesota or Federal Sentencing Guidelines will provide a “presumptive sentence” after based upon the severity level of the offense of conviction and criminal history score.  Though there can be upward or downward departures from the presumptive sentence, it is useful to look at the presumptive sentence. There are also “mandatory minimum” sentencing statutes in Minnesota and United States Statutes which can be cruel, severe, and lengthier than the presumptive guidelines sentence.  It is vital to consult a criminal defense lawyer to discuss these factors. In non-felony, misdemeanor cases, up to one year in jail can be possible in Minnesota cases.

If It Is Important to You, Then It’s Worth Getting the Best Lawyer You Can to Help

For many reasons, it is valuable to prevent a criminal charge, to prevent a criminal conviction, and to prevent a criminal sentence in Minnesota.  The rule is simple.  If it is important, then it is important to have a good lawyer’s help in protecting it.  You and your family are worth a lot.  A good criminal lawyer can help protect your future, and your future income earning potential.  Protect your good name while you can – before it’s too late, before a guilty plea.  (Keep in mind that in order to qualify for a Minnesota expungement someday under Minnesota’s expungement statute, you’ll need to plan ahead in order to do so, with the help of a good criminal defense lawyer while the charge is still pending.)

This article was written by Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer  Thomas Gallagher.  Gallagher answers questions about Minnesota law court cases and issues every day, free, over the phone.  He also provides free half-hour office consultations by appointment.  You can give Gallagher a call with your question or to make an appointment at 612 333-1500.

Underage Consumption > Do I Have to Submit a Breath Sample to Police Upon Request in Minnesota?

martiniMost people are aware that if a person is driving a motor vehicle in Minnesota, a police officer can in certain circumstances invoke legal authority under a Minnesota Statute to demand the person submit to a search by providing a breath sample for a Portable (or Preliminary) Breath Test (“PBT”) machine.  If the driver refuses, the statute then authorizes arrest for suspicion of DWI.

What about the person under 21 years of age, who is not driving or anywhere near a motor vehicle?  There is no statute or law that requires that young person to consent to a search by providing a breath sample simply because they are walking down the street, or found at a house party, with an odor of an alcoholic beverage about them.  A young person in this position can simply refuse to consent to such a search.  Refusal to submit to a PBT does not give police legal authority to arrest a pedestrian (unlike a driver, in certain circumstances).  Note that although the Minnesota Statute in the DWI Chapter concerning Preliminary Screening Tests (link above) does authorize use of these in underage consumption cases in court, it does not authorize police to “require” a breath sample for a PBT where the person has no connection to a motor vehicle.

An interesting, recent case in Michigan illustrates some of the key points in this type of case, Troy v Chowdhury, Michigan Court of Appeals, September 10, 2009.  There, the City of Troy had enacted an ordinance to allow police to force consent to breath testing of minors, and this was ruled unconstitutional.  The court in that case notes that police did not claim to have obtained consent from the accused, nor did they have a search warrant.  The court also confirms the obvious – when police take a breath sample that is a search.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, in order for police to search a person they must have a search warrant, or a recognized exception to the warrant requirement must a then apply.  Consent can be an exception.  If “consent” is coerced, then it is not real consent.

I know of no statute or local ordinance in Minnesota that gives police legal authority to “require” a breath sample for alcohol testing (unless in connection with weapons or motor vehicles).  Police often will seek actual consent, or sometimes try to coerce “consent.”  The person (with no weapon, or not in relation to a motor vehicle) faced with such a request from a police officer does not have to consent to such a search or provide a breath sample simply because police want it.

The police and local prosecutors can still charge underage consumption crimes without PBT evidence, based upon other available evidence.  (The most damning are verbal admissions by the accused.)  Regardless, a person accused of this crime could be expected to have a stronger defense case if they refuse to blow into the PBT, and refuse to talk about drinking.

Other problems commonly occurring with these kinds of cases include criminal charges of giving false information or identity to police, and less often, fleeing.  I know of no law in Minnesota that requires a person to identify themselves to police (except in certain circumstances such as driving, hunting, carrying, etc.)  If a person is not driving, they need not carry a drivers license or other ID.  A person should be careful to avoid giving a false identity to police, which is a worse crime than underage drinking, in the eyes of most.  If a police officer asserts their authority as a police officer, fleeing is a crime in Minnesota, whether in a vehicle or otherwise.

In general, a person suspected of a crime cannot be compelled to talk or provide information, or consent to a search (and this is normally the best approach); however, any information that is provided should be truthful.  When in doubt, seek legal advice from a lawyer before making a statement or consenting to a search.

Author: Thomas Gallagher Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer

Avoiding Traffic Stops – New Minnesota Laws 2009

Another year, another truckload of new laws – the usual, right?  How does that affect you?  For the most part, hopefully it doesn’t.

But when you consider the fact that most criminal law problems – large and small – start as vehicle traffic stops; it pays to be aware of new laws allowing police to stop you.  Some of these went into effect June, July and some August 1, 2009.  All represent an expansion of government power and a reduction of your liberty and freedom.

 Do you remember several years ago when advocates of another law to mandate seat-belt use upon penalty of a petty misdemeanor fine, reassured us “don’t worry, we will never ask for a primary seat belt law;”  How long is “never,” again?  Not that long, it seems.

It starts with a traffic stop...

It starts with a traffic stop…

Police now can stop you for merely not wearing a Seat-belt in Minnesota.  A “primary violation” seat belt law gives police the legal right to stop a vehicle if someone in the vehicle appears to not wear a seat belt.  The previous version of the seat belt law did not allow traffic stops solely for the appearance of not wearing a seat belt.  This year’s law does.  The law eliminates personal choice, and personal responsibility.  It hands over more responsibility and more power to the government, taking it away from the individual.  It reduces the need for people to educate themselves, be responsible for themselves, and develop a personal moral code.  It reduces your freedom.  As usual, they claim sacrificing your freedom is worth it – for your own good.

The new “primary” seat belt violation law increases the potential for stops and arrests resulting from racial profiling.  Racial profiling is a real problem – difficult to solve.  Though police generally don’t view themselves as racist (few people do), they are no different from the rest of us, and are no more perfect in relation to racial stereotyping and its effects.  We know that when it comes to race, there is a disparate impact upon people identifiable as part of a racial minority group that can only be explained by race.  Creating more opportunities for police to stop people for petty, technical violations inevitably leads a worsening of the racial profiling problem.

Social control by force – by law enforcement – is corrosive to our culture and our youth.  Why learn responsibility as an individual if the government allows you little of it, and controls ever smaller aspects of your life – year after year, law after law?  This seat belt law gives law enforcement yet another reason to pull someone over, and to find another, bigger reason to interfere with your life.

Expansion of Child Seat law.

Under the new law, children in a motor vehicle must now be in a child passenger restraint system until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.  Of course, this is yet another reason for police to stop you if it appears you might be in violation of this.

Global Positioning Systems on Windshield .

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can now lawfully be mounted or located near the bottom-most part of a vehicle’s windshield.  Previously, anything mounted on the front or rear windshield put the driver at risk of a traffic stop by police.  The “obstructed windshield” statute, used by police to justify such traffic stops, does have some language about obstruction to the drivers view – yet, it gave police the legal excuse to stop someone if there was anything on the windshield, or between the windshield and the driver.  These have included RADAR detectors (otherwise legal), notepads stuck to the windshield, air fresheners or other items hanging from the rearview mirror, and the like – in addition to GPS units mounted to the windshield.  At least now there is an exception for GPS units mounted to the lowest portion of the windshield.  Presumably in that location, the driver’s view will not be impeded.

What about a RADAR detector?  Prudence might argue for a newer RADAR detector with a GPS unit incorporated in the same unit.  That – or don’t mount it to the windshield.  (See, Speeding Laws in Minnesota for a discussion of MN speed law and defense.)

Tips for Avoiding Traffic Stops.

Other than changing your race, age, car, etc., how can you minimize your risk of a traffic stop?  Of course, obeying the traffic laws seems obvious.  But what about all of the technicalities the police can use to either ruin your day, or ruin your life?  Here’s a list of a few:

  1. Avoid placing any decals of any kind on your front or rear windshield, even where instructed to do so by a government agency.  Instead, place them on a side window, where necessary.
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields.  In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
  3. Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners.  Place them below the windshield level.  Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
  4. Make sure all of your lights, brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, as well as license plate illumination light – are all working.
  5. Make sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
  6. Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
  7. Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal.  (And work on changing this law.)

Given the plethora of overreaching laws already in existence, it has never been more important to prevent police from violating your privacy and liberty interests.  Traffic stops are the narrow end of the wedge the government can drive into you and your life, to hurt or destroy you.  Every police contact creates a risk of a life-altering criminal charge – innocent or not.  Every smart citizen should strive to avoid these police contacts in the first place.

For further information: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.