Legal Rights Center News
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September 2012A survey of full representation Legal Rights Center clients, compiled during 2011-12, revealed the following % of agreement:
I was given the information needed to make key decisions about my legal case (95)
I took steps to help my Attorney handle my legal case (88)
I completely understand the results of my legal case (93)
Because of the charge(s) against me, I took steps to change (86)
Separate from my legal case, I benefited by going to the Legal Rights Center (92)
I would recommend the Legal Rights Center to others (97)
In a case that drew substantial national and local press coverage, the Legal Rights Center represented CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman charged with murder. She had been pursued by her eventual victim after he and others had attacked her with hate speech, and one of the group had smashed a glass into her face. Buoyed by a very effective support committee – that brought attention to the degree of violence perpetrated against individuals who are transgender and why that would contribute to CeCe’s belief that her life was in danger – as well as the hundreds of hours donated by attorney and non-attorney volunteers, CeCe and her Legal Rights Center attorney declined multiple plea offers and prepared for trial. On the last day of jury selection, a new plea offer of the minimum sentence (41 months) for the charge of second degree manslaughter (culpable negligence) was accepted by our client.
In an interview published prior to the plea, Ms. McDonald said the following about her Legal Rights Center attorney:
He handles a lot of cases other than mine, but his efforts are so wonderful… He has given me so much education on law and the justice system and just so much. So, yeah, he’s a very cool lawyer. He’s not uppity like most people think a lawyer would be… He doesn’t put pressure on me. He gives me time to think and consider things and he goes over things with me so I can have a better understanding to make my decisions.
The case well reflects the original drive of the LRC, representing -- with great diligence and respect -- a defendant from a minority community for which there is great need for better public recognition of:
1) The defendant’s humanity and rights;2) The circumstances relating to racism and oppression that led to the charged crime.
March 2012Executive Director Michael Friedman appeared on the "Is There a School to Prison Pipeline?" Panel at the How are the Children? conference at St. Thomas Law School. A few weeks earlier, Mr. Friedman published an op-ed in the Star Tribune in which he responded to an editorial and article defending the extensive use of school suspensions. In both forums, the use of transformative restorative justice, such as the LRC’s successful partnership with the Minneapolis school district, was put forward as a means to improve upon racial disparities in educational outcomes (and, eventually, prison populations).
August 2011In a malicious punishment of a child case in which our client had deep remorse for the consequences of his actions, our attorney – with the help of the client’s own testimony – successfully explained to the jury why this was a crime without willful intent. The corporal punishment used was similar to what the defendant had received as a child, and reflected the historical impact of slavery and its aftermath, descending from the fear that children behaving less than perfectly in public could create dangers for themselves or others. The case well exemplifies the Legal Rights Center’s ability to help juries understand and contextualize the unique circumstances experienced by every single defendant.
The Juvenile Justice
Much is at stake as noted by the Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota: For many, diversion and referral to community-based services will address underlying issues and result in better outcomes than sending the youth through the formal court system … Being diverted … can mean the difference between a youth’s continued engagement in offending behavior or development into successful adulthood.
The Legal Rights Center has
long specialized in
resolving underlying issues that led to police or juvenile justice
involvement, whether in defense practice or through restorative justice
methods. Our staff’s particular expertise
restorative family conferencing allows us to excel in two highlighted
of the ideal diversion process: family involvement, and cultural
program currently accepts some juvenile diversion referrals from the
County Attorney and the Minneapolis Police Department.
If those agencies follow the recommendations
of the Minnesota Diversion Guidebook, diversion will become the
choice in far more circumstances.
LRC volunteer attorney, Diane M. Dodd, successfully obtained a dismissal on behalf of her client in a murder trial. In September of 2009, charges had been brought against a mother for killing her own baby. The allegations depended substantially upon the testimony of the child’s babysitter, who later fled to her country of citizenship when it emerged that the defense had reason to believe she was the actual perpetrator. The county prosecutor had fought prior attempts to dismiss the case, creating a fundamentally unfair delay. The prosecution finally dismissed the charges at the onset of a hearing on a new defense motion.
The Star Tribune report of the dismissal
missing witness but repeated details from the original police complaint
including the defense’s key contention. Such
in this case, but was
of the media bias often perceived within the communities of color
served by the
LRC. Given the broader issue, the LRC’s
Chief among our constitutional rights is that police do not have the final word over who has committed a criminal act and who has not.
We cannot be denied our liberty without due process, which includes the right to a trial before an impartial judge or jury and the right to challenge witnesses through cross examination.
It's a shame that the Star Tribune's public safety reporting frequently quotes from the police version of events as the final word on alleged crimes.
The problem is that reporters rely too heavily on an easily accessible public document known as the "complaint." The complaint is a summary of the case first presented to the court at charging and need only summarize the basis for why police believe a crime has been committed.
While a complaint may assert police beliefs as facts, it's not until the trial that facts become proven. Much can be learned between the time the complaint is filed and when the case is heard.
Accurately informing the public requires reporters to gather such information and interview attorneys on all sides. For the sake of fairness, editors should insist that such steps are taken.
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Phone: (612) 337-0030 Fax: (612) 337-0797
Email: office (at) legalrightscenter.org