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Brainerd Minnesota Law Blog

Report shows that the racial divide in prisons is narrowing

Racial disparities among state prison inmates in Minnesota and around the country are becoming much less pronounced, but the figures show that African Americans are still incarcerated at much higher rates than whites. This was just one of the conclusions found in a report on prison demographics released on Dec. 3 by the Council on Criminal Justice. The nonpartisan organization also noticed a narrower disparity between the number of black and white individuals on parole or probation.

The mass incarceration of African Americans peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the emergence of crack cocaine as a major law enforcement challenge. By the year 2000, a black American was 15 times more likely than a white American to be sent to prison for possessing or distributing illegal drugs. In 2016, an African American was five times more likely to be incarcerated on narcotics charges. The overall ratio of black to white inmates fell from 9-1 to 6-1 between 2000 and 2016 according to the COCJ report.

WHAT IS A MOTOR VEHICLE AND WHAT IS DRIVING?

Seems like two real dumb questions, we all know a motor vehicle is a car or truck, and driving is when we are going down the road in them. But, that old rule your teacher told you about there being no such thing as a dumb question is true here. State law defines motor vehicles differently than many of us do for purposes of the drunk driving laws. 

Estate plan concerns

Estate planning can be a sensitive, stressful issue for people and families in Minnesota as well as around the country. Many people are uncomfortable thinking about death or the possibility of a debilitating accident or illness. They are even more uncomfortable discussing these things with family members.

Unfortunately, this discomfort can lead to an absence of estate planning or the creation of a plan that is inadequate. Many experts advise estate planners to schedule a conversation with their children and heirs so that everyone is aware of an estate plan and how it will be executed. Doing this helps to prevent surprises and might reduce family tension.

Ways to maintain communication with children after divorce

Family courts often encourage parents to create a parenting time schedule. When both parents live in Minnesota, this could mean that children regularly spend time in both homes. Many children spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other. In cases where the children live in a different state than one of their parents, noncustodial parents may need to be more creative to ensure that children benefit from constant communication.

The noncustodial parents may keep in touch with their children after divorce through phone calls, video calls and social media. Because noncustodial parents don't see their children every day, social media could give them insight into their children's lives.

Snitches Get Stiches

It is an old saying, but still has some truth to it. Some people charged with a crime make a deal to reduce, or sometimes almost eliminate any punishment, in exchange for telling the police and prosecution useful information about other people involved in their crime with them. Besides the advantage of reduced punishment, this type of deal carries some risk. Depending on who one is cooperating against, and what your long term plans are, there may be a risk of getting some stitches. If you have a chance to cooperate in exchange for a reduction in punishment, it may be a good deal, but give it some serious thought, you do not want to be getting any stitches, or worse.

Experts question the value of forensic evidence

Minnesota residents who watch shows like 'CSI" on television may be surprised to learn that questions have been raised about the validity of forensic evidence and the qualifications of the experts who provide it. After studying the way hairs, fingerprints and fibers are gathered and processed, a panel of scientists, academics and legal experts found problems with virtually every technique and concluded that the interpretation of forensic evidence is often based on subjective factors rather than science. Their findings were published in 2009 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The NAS report was especially critical of blood pattern analysis. This is a technique forensic experts use to determine the sequence of events at a crime scene based on blood drips, smears and splatter. The NAS experts found little in the way of solid science to back up BPA and discovered that its practitioners often lacked accreditation and proper training. Findings such as these are particularly worrying for groups advocating for criminal justice reform because juries tend to find this kind of evidence extremely convincing.

Can I get charged with a DWI on a snowmobile?

Snowmobiling is a popular recreational activity and method of transportation in the winter time, and there’s no better place for it than northern Minnesota. Whether you’re traversing the trails or circling the lake, it can be a great way to socialize and take advantage of the abundance of snow. But you should be careful if you plan on pairing alcohol with your snowmobiling adventures.

Under Minnesota law, it’s illegal to operate any vehicle under the influence of alcohol, and this includes snowmobiles. If your alcohol concentration (AC) level is .08 or higher, you are above the legal limit and can be arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Signs that a divorce is imminent

People in Minnesota may experience various conflicts and changes in their relationships. When people get married, they may intend to stay together for the rest of their lives. However, as people change and grow, they can find themselves at odds with their spouse. They may have conflicts over career or parenthood, or they may suffer issues with addiction, infidelity or even abuse. In other cases, they may simply find themselves growing in different directions, especially if they married at a younger age or experienced significant upheaval in their lives. There are some indicators that experts say reveal when couples are more likely to end their marriage.

Contempt is one issue cited as a common sign that divorce is in the future. For example, a spouse may not consider a partner at all in making decisions about major issues, like elective health procedures or a big career move. This can indicate that the spouses no longer see each other as an important factor in each other's lives or that they do not have respect for the other person's opinion. In other cases, contempt can be shown much more clearly, as when one spouse calls the other names, mocks them openly or speaks about them dismissively.

It can happen here

That was the title of a book written in the 1930s about a Nazi style takeover in this country. People assumed that something like that could never happen here, and it did.

Discharging student loan debt in a bankruptcy

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2005, makes student loan debt exempt from discharge in most situations, and individuals who seek relief from educational loan obligations are generally required to establish undue hardship by passing the Brunner test. However, Minnesota is one of a handful of states where bankruptcy courts apply the totality of circumstances test instead of the Brunner test.

To pass the Brunner test, an individual's situation must meet three criteria. Making their required monthly student loan payments must not leave them enough money to enjoy even a minimal lifestyle, their situation must be unlikely to change significantly in the future, and they must have made good faith efforts to pay their debts. The Eighth Circuit, which includes the District of Minnesota, has ruled that this sets an unfairly strict standard and includes a good faith requirement that is not found in the bankruptcy code.

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