A Minnesota County Attorney’s Office dismissed its felony Fleeing a Peace Officer in a Motor Vehicle case against my client after we revealed law enforcement’s flimsy investigation. While this is a substantial victory for our client, it represents a terrifying pitfall in the criminal justice system.
A sheriff’s deputy was on routine patrol when he witnessed the driver of a pickup truck without his seat belt. The deputy executed a traffic stop for that reason. The deputy exited his squad car, approached the driver, and asked for his driver’s license. The driver said he didn’t have a license in his possession. The deputy asked the driver for his name and DOB, to which the driver provided my client’s name and a random DOB.
The deputy returned to his squad car and ran the driver’s information. Nothing turned up. The deputy exited his squad car and approached the pickup truck driver again. The deputy explained to the driver that his search did not return a result for my client’s name and the random DOB. In response, the driver provided another erroneous DOB of 03/12/1927. The deputy pressed the driver for his real information. That’s when the driver put his pickup truck in gear and took off.
The deputy pursued the truck, who led the deputy on a high-speed chase through Saint Paul. The deputy tried to catch the pickup truck, but he ultimately called off the chase when the pickup truck exceeded 90 MPH on I-35 during rush hour.
Shortly thereafter, the deputy searched the name the pickup truck driver provided in a government database and located a decades-old mugshot of my client. The deputy compared the image of my client to the likeness of the pickup truck driver and said it was the same person. Based solely on this, the county attorney charged my client with felony Fleeing a Peace Officer in a Motor Vehicle.
The first thing we did was conduct an independent investigation into the case. Based on the police squad video provided by the county attorney, it was undisputed that somebody driving a pickup truck led the deputy on a high-speed chase through Saint Paul. The identity of the driver was not as clear. Our investigation revealed that my client never owned a pickup truck in his life. Further, the license plate affixed to the pickup truck belonged to a Hyundai Tiburon registered to an owner unrelated to my client.
During the initial consultation, my client told me something to the effect of, “I didn’t do this. It wasn’t me.” I explained to him that having an alibi is one of the strongest defenses possible. I asked him for evidence of his alibi, and he provided me with GPS data from his cell phone of his exact whereabouts from when this high-speed chase happened. It turns out my client was over 50 miles away when the deputy pulled over the pickup truck. Further, my client provided information of three people who corroborated his alibi. I presented this evidence to the assistant county attorney, who told me something to the effect of “I’ll have my officers investigate this.”
The time for your officers to investigate was before you charged my client with a crime.
Four weeks later, the State dismissed its case “in the interest of justice.” But here’s the moral of the story. When the government failed to adequately investigate this crime, it charged my client—an innocent man. He was arrested, jailed, and paid hundreds of dollars to bail out of jail. When we revealed law enforcement’s flimsy investigation by establishing my client’s airtight alibi, the county attorney turned the case back to the same law enforcement agency that fumbled the first investigation. This is far from “in the interest of justice.”
This case represents a terrifying flaw of our criminal justice system—the government charging innocent people with crimes they didn’t commit. This is the very reason I decided to practice criminal defense. In order to protect the constitutional rights of everybody, we must aggressively defend the rights of the criminally accused.