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Minneapolis Law Blog

U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage legal nationwide

Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court delivered a ruling with immediate implications for the lives of countless Americans. Although 37 states, including Minnesota, have legalized same-sex marriage (by state action or court ruling), 13 states have stubbornly upheld bans on the practice.

With Friday's SCOTUS ruling, all 50 states must now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and must recognize marriages of same-sex couples who wed in other states. The 5-4 ruling clarified that marriage is a fundamental right, and one that is extended to same-sex couples by the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause.

When laws are passed in panicked response to high-profile crimes

When a stunning, awful crime comes to light, it exposes our vulnerabilities. We realize anew that we can't trust people just because they have impressive titles. We remember that security screenings aren't foolproof. We're forcefully jolted out of our complaisance by the cold hard facts. No amount of constant surveillance and aggressive law enforcement can stop every crime, even if we're willing to accept Big Brother as our guardian.

Unfortunately, the realization of our common, fundamental vulnerability doesn't necessarily bring us closer to one another -- or make us wiser. Often enough, horrific crime prompts us to put into place ever-more harsh, intrusive, costly laws and enforcement mechanisms. That may be why it's impossible to find out how many criminal laws we have, even if you're just counting federal criminal statutes. It may explain the motivation to create Minnesota's unconstitutional sex offender program.

The persistent problem of racism in America

The events of the last week - and one horrible event in particular - have provided a grim reminder of two difficult truths. The first truth, as illustrated by the brutal murder of nine African Americans in South Carolina, is that the United States still suffers from deep-seated racism. As President Obama has said, slavery still "casts a long shadow."

The second difficult truth is that a significant number of white Americans refuse to accept the first truth. Despite the progress we have made as a nation, African Americans continue to face personal racism as well as systemic racism in employment, education, housing, criminal justice and the economy. Sadly, we cannot truly solve these injustices until they are universally acknowledged.

Should you choose a jury trial, bench trial or plea deal? Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about trial options for individuals charged with a crime. While we are constitutionally guaranteed the right to a jury trial, we can also opt for a judge-only "bench trial." Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and your attorney can help you decide which would be most appropriate in your case.

As we mentioned in our first post, jury trials can be advantageous if the defendant or his case is relatable and sympathetic. Jurors often focus on character and emotions more than on legal nuances and "hard" evidence. That being said, a defendant does run the risk of facing a jury that is unsympathetic to him and his case.

Should you choose a jury trial, bench trial or plea deal? Part I

As Americans, we are constitutionally guaranteed the right to a trial by an impartial jury if we have been charged with a crime. Of course, we know that juries are composed of humans and can therefore never be entirely impartial. But the right to a jury trial is nonetheless comforting, because it increases transparency and takes some power out of the hands of government.

Unfortunately, as we have written in previous posts, the vast majority of criminal cases never even make it to trial because prosecutors have considerable leverage in coercing defendants to take plea deals. The "trial penalty" is a commonly issued threat that if defendants opt for a trial instead of a plea, prosecutors will push for a far more serious sentence if they are found guilty.

Medical marijuana may be legal, but employer can still fire you

Minnesota is in the midst of enacting its new medical cannabis program. Although the cannabis will be a derivative medicine and consuming/smoking marijuana in its natural form will remain illegal, Minnesota is counted among the 23 states to have legalized medical marijuana.

This means that patients with a prescription who use marijuana-derived medicines will be protected from criminal prosecution. But what about employment protections? Will patients be protected from being fired for positive drug tests? Unfortunately the answer may be "no."

Major court ruling delivered on Minnesota Sex Offender Program

For the past 20 years, Minnesota has had one of the more controversial sex offender programs in the nation. Rather than releasing convicted sex offenders after their prison sentence has been served, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) often keeps offenders civilly committed indefinitely in one of two high-security facilities around the state.

Earlier today, a federal judge issued a highly anticipated ruling on the MSOP, calling it unconstitutional. Practically speaking, this means that the program will likely need to undergo significant reforms.

Case highlights many problems in criminal justice system: Part III

In today's post, we'll continue and conclude our discussion about a young man named Kalief Browder, whose recent suicide - and the events leading up to it - have been the focus of national media attention. Browder was arrested for a minor offense at age 16 and spent about three years in prison while awaiting trial. He was beaten by inmates and guards and spent the majority of his time in solitary confinement.

The problems and injustices Browder suffered were severe, but sadly, not unique. His story highlights the many issues plaguing the criminal justice system across the United States, including here in Minnesota.

Case highlights many problems in criminal justice system: Part II

In our last post, we began a discussion about a young man named Kalief Browder, who reportedly committed suicide last weekend. Most blame his mental health issues and previous suicide attempts on the terrible injustices he suffered in New York's criminal justice system.

Although the case occurred in New York, the problems it highlights can be seen here in Minnesota and across the country. We'll discuss some of those issues today.

Case highlights many problems in criminal justice system: Part I

We frequently write about the problems plaguing the American criminal justice system. These problems can be seen in nearly every aspect of criminal justice, from policing to courts to prisons. All these issues are under-reported in the media and often ignored by politicians with the power to make substantive changes.

Recently, news of a young man's suicide has made it much more difficult for most people to ignore these issues and the very real human costs associated with them. This young man's tragic story is an extreme example of injustices faced by thousands of others around the country, including here in Minnesota.

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