In ancient times those who did not pay their creditors could be imprisoned until the debt was paid. In 2014 we do not have debtor’s prison, despite the insinuations of media reports. In Minnesota in 2014, no one goes to jail just for not paying a debt or because there is a money judgment against them.
Spring is finally here, so we look forward once again to walking, running, jogging and biking. It seems in our state, however, there is far less compliance than in other states with traffic laws intended to protect pedestrians.
The explosion of social networking and the ability of each of us to access billions of pieces of information and connect with literally millions of individuals over the Internet can be viewed as beneficial to society as a whole. But technology advances much faster than our system of laws and the rules of the judicial system can react or accommodate them.
The week of April 28 to May 2 was recognized as Jury Appreciation Week in Minnesota. Judges and court administrators are keenly aware of the financial stresses that may accompany jury duty for some citizens. Therefore, we express our thanks to our all jurors of the past year. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan, who served from 1877 to 1911 called the jury system “one of the principal excellencies of our Constitution.”
I recently read an article about ordinances in some states that make annoying conduct illegal. Such ordinances have frequently been found unconstitutionally vague and, therefore, unenforceable. A least one Minnesota city had its “no loud music” ordinance found unenforceable because of vagueness. Why should it be illegal and chargeable for teens to play loud rock music while driving through downtown at midnight, but probably not illegal or chargeable for a senior citizen to play WCCO news at high volume when driving downtown at midday?
There is a column appearing in major newspapers entitled “News of the Weird.” The stories are about people who do amazingly stupid things which cause us to think, ‘what were they thinking?’ Often these stories involve lawsuits, crimes, lawyers and judges. Here are a few recent stories in the media that involve people in the judicial system.
Despite all the snow and bitter cold, springtime in Minnesota is just ahead, really! The time of floods, muddy yards, reconnecting with neighbors, throwin’ around the old baseball, and preparing for PROM. Springtime is the time when teens begin to drive more and are involved in activities like PROM which often involve illegal alcohol use and driving. Spring begins the time of year traffic experts have designated the ‘100 deadliest days’ for teens. Year-round nearly every 7 days in Minnesota a teen driver dies in an auto wreck. I have written about this each spring and do so again due to the importance of this issue.
If you grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s you probably remember watching the ‘Our Gang’ comedies from the 1930’s in which Spanky, Alfalfa, and Buckwheat play hooky from school and are chased by the truant officer. That was funny but there is nothing funny about truancy. It is a major problem in many of our schools and results in a significant waste of educational resources and your tax paying dollars.
Frequently in juvenile court we judges see cases of vandalism from minor egg-throwing to major wanton acts of property destruction in the tens of thousands of dollars. I have never been able to understand the mindset of the juveniles involved in such incidents. Sometimes the juveniles explain that they didn’t plan on doing any damage and that it was their friends that goaded them into participating, i.e. peer pressure. Surveys have shown that the typical vandal is a young male middle school student acting in a small group.
Among the fundamental rights we all have as U.S. citizens is the presumption of innocence. Whether a citizen gets a speeding ticket, is charged with DWI, or is indicted for murder, the presumption of innocence remains throughout the entire court process, including any appeals if the citizen is convicted by a judge or jury. Unlike the right to counsel or reasonable bail, the presumption of innocence is not in the U.S. or Minnesota Constitutions. It is a part of the common law which American jurisprudence has followed from the British tradition.