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Minneapolis Civil Rights Law Blog

Could criminal behavior someday be predicted by our genes?

Scientific research in the 20th and 21st centuries has continued to struggle with the same basic questions about human behavior. Are we products of nature, nurture or self-volition? In other words, can we attribute our behaviors/strengths/defects to biology, the environment we grew up in or our own efforts?

A growing body of research seems to suggest that we are products of all of these influences and more. But this leads to other questions. If we are shaped by factors beyond our control, can we take credit for our successes? And how culpable are we when we commit crimes?

Minnesota needs to reexamine laws stripping felons of voting rights

Earlier this month, Americans around the country went to their local polling places to cast their vote in the midterm elections. The midterms (and all elections for that matter) tend to see fairly low rates of eligible voter turnout. While this is considered a shame by those who are passionate about politics, there is an even larger shame related to voting that too often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

Minnesota is among the vast majority of states that take away the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony. Minnesota specifically denies voting rights to convicted felons while they are incarcerated, on probation or on parole (supervised release). According to the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, felony disenfranchisement affects more than 60,000 Minnesotans who are on probation or parole, sometimes for decades.

Minnesota man arrested for alleged DUI in front-end loader

Earlier this week, Minnesotans got their first taste of winter. In typical Minnesota fashion, the first snowfall of the season was less of a light blanket and more of a heavy quilt.

Because cold weather makes walking home difficult and because the holiday season is approaching, it is likely that arrest rates for drunk driving will be on the rise in coming weeks. And a news story about a recent DUI arrest is a reminder that drunk driving laws don’t just apply to incidents involving cars and trucks.

ACLU report: Minneapolis arrest rates widely vary by race

In our last post, we wrote about the disturbing racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. These disparities can even be seen in Minnesota, which is often considered a more racially inclusive state.

According to a recent report by the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Minneapolis arrest data shows that blacks in Minneapolis are far more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than whites are. As just one example, African Americans are 11.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites despite the fact that both groups use the drug at similar rates.

U.S. attorney general nominee has impressive civil rights record

It is difficult to discuss criminal justice in America without also discussing race. Civil rights leaders note that racism is apparent in the way that certain laws are written, but can also be seen in the selective ways that many laws are enforced.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder understands the role that race plays in the criminal justice system. Among his many achievements, he has been a staunch supporter of changes to drug laws as well as sentencing guidelines for drug crimes. With news in recent months that Holder would be resigning, some wondered if his important work at the Department of Justice would continue. With the announcement of President Obama’s pick to be Holder’s replacement, it seems that it will.

Minneapolis company settles EEOC disability discrimination suit

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt first ran for president, he had already been suffering for years the debilitating after-effects of polio. But while on the campaign trail, FDR was determined to walk with crutches and hidden leg braces even though it meant significantly more work and pain than simply using a wheelchair. To use the now-offensive terminology of the day, FDR was convinced that he could appear “lame,” but that Americans would never elect a “cripple.”

Thankfully, we live in different times. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in place since the early 1990s, and employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against employees or potential employees based on disability or perceived disability. Unfortunately, not every employer is as enlightened as they should be.

New law raises questions about the limits of free speech: Part II

In our last post, we began a discussion about a recently passed law that seemingly curtails the free speech rights of convicted offenders. While the law was passed in Pennsylvania and not Minnesota, the issue of free speech is one that should concern Americans everywhere.

The legislation, which is called the Re-victimization Relief Act, allows “crime victims or prosecutors acting on their behalf to file a civil action against an offender to seek injunctive relief, including attorney fees and related costs,” according to news sources. The purpose is to prevent convicted/imprisoned offenders from speaking publicly in ways that could perpetuate the suffering of the offenders’ victims and families.

New law raises questions about the limits of free speech: Part I

The majority of Americans would agree that freedom of speech is among the most important and sacred Constitutional rights that we have. And because controversial or distasteful speech is usually what gets targeted for censorship, the right to free speech is arguably the right to offend.

But should this right ever be taken away? How about for convicted offenders trying to speak publicly from behind bars? This is the question at issue in a controversial law recently passed in Pennsylvania. Because it addresses perhaps our most important civil right, this law may be as important to Minnesotans as it is to Pennsylvanians.

What does the future hold for Minnesota's medical marijuana laws?

Marijuana’s legal status seems to change a little bit every day in the United States. A drug that was once illegal in every state (and still is illegal under federal law) has since been legalized for medical use in a growing number of states. Two have gone so far as to legalize pot for recreational use as well.

Earlier this year, Minnesota legislators passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana but strictly regulating how it is dispensed and two whom. Although the law doesn’t go into effect until next summer, many Minnesotans have already called upon Gov. Dayton and other candidates running against him to pledge to expand the law and loosen restrictions.

Minnesota man charged after woman's OD death at his apartment

Some of our recent posts have focused on Minnesota’s epidemic of fatal drug overdoses. The problem is a common one nationwide, particularly as rates of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse have risen sharply in recent years.

When someone dies after overdosing on drugs or taking what proves to be a fatal combination of drugs, law enforcement agencies are increasingly bringing charges against others who may have supplied drugs to the victim. In many cases, these individuals face murder charges as well as drug charges.

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