Wednesday, October 4, 2017

No Reasonable Likelihood

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed a crimiinal conviction, rejecting a claim that a press interview by the prosecutor was plain error requiring reversal

The State charged Parker with several offenses, including second-degree intentional murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2016). That same day, on February 3, 2014, the county attorney held a press conference during which he announced the charges against Parker and answered questions from the media. In his introduction, the county attorney commented on Sonnenberg’s character, referring to him as a "fine man" and "a Good Samaritan who is doing what we always hope people do . . . help others." In addition to Sonnenberg’s character, the county attorney mentioned Parker’s prior record and sentencing history, saying, "Parker had a prior record of more minor crimes: obstruction with force; fifth-degree assault; interference with an MTC bus driver, but nothing significant. He had done time in the past, and ironically, he was supposed to appear on Friday, the day this incident occurred, in Hennepin County District Court to be sentenced on another crime." Finally, the county attorney twice alluded to Parker’s constitutional right against self-incrimination. He stated, in response to a question from the press, that "Apparently Parker knows people in the neighborhood, but we don’t know because the only person who really knows that is Parker, and he’s not talking." Similarly, in response to a question about Parker’s possible motive, the county attorney commented, "Our dilemma always is, the defendant’s got his constitutional right not to talk, he’s the one who can answer these questions frankly better than I can."

The county attorney’s office later posted the video of the press conference to its YouTube page, referring to Sonnenberg as a "Good Samaritan" in the title of the video...


 Here, we are convinced that there is no “reasonable likelihood” that the county attorney’s statements during the press conference, even if these comments formed the basis for the subsequent media coverage, affected Parker’s substantial rights.  As discussed above, none of the jurors were exposed to any pretrial publicity or had knowledge of Parker or the charges he faced, which is apparent from their responses to the questions by the court during voir dire.  Nor did any jurors recognize Parker during voir dire or claim to have any familiarity with the charges, suggesting that the county attorney’s statements from the press conference did not pervade the jurors’ considerations.

(Mike Frisch)

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