When a criminal defense attorney is called, the person on the other end of the phone is often times in a place of vulnerability and needs someone to be in their corner. Defense attorneys are able to act as that person who is on their side and can make a huge difference in this person’s life. Defense attorneys are able to form relationships with their clients, unveiling the good in each and every one of those in need of legal service. I believe that by having the ability to form these personal connections, criminal defense attorneys are able to see past their actions and are able to impact their client’s lives.
Similar to most aspiring attorneys, the reason I wanted to become a lawyer was to help people. I have always wanted to provide competent legal service to those who are in need because that is what the Constitution calls for. I knew I wanted to go to law school before I started undergrad, but I never knew exactly what area I wanted to go into. When I started law school and took Criminal and Constitutional Law, I became very interested in criminal defense work.
In addition to wanting to help those who are in a vulnerable place, my interest for criminal defense work was sparked when I learned more about the Constitution, and Constitutional Law. I was a Constitutional History major in undergrad and was always interested in this area. When I took Constitutional Law, I began to learn more about individual rights. I read a lot about cases where the person who was accused was wrongfully convicted of the crime. Wrongful Conviction cases became my number one interest.
After taking Constitutional and Criminal Law, I wanted to start exploring my options in criminal defense. Although there are many ways to learn about this area, I knew I wanted to work in a firm. Working for criminal defense firms allows you the opportunity to see cases up close, and work on multiple cases at a time with the different attorneys. In addition, I have always been interested in Expungements and wanted to find a firm where I could work on these cases and see them in court.
The courtroom has always been the scariest part of being a lawyer to me so I wanted to become more comfortable with the judicial process and being in front of the Judge. As a clerk, I have been given opportunities to see the courtroom process, as well as the process leading up to the courtroom. These courtroom experiences have helped me make sense of the procedural aspect of the law and understand the law as to how it is to be applied. These experiences combined with learning from Attorney Ambrose, Attorney Kujawa, and Attorney Koll has deepened my passion for criminal law, and I am excited to continue to learn and explore this area.
When I started law school, I did not know what type of law I wanted to practice. During my first year of law school, we practiced appearing in front of judges and arguing like we were in Court. From that experience, I knew I wanted to do that type of work, I wanted to be in front of a judge arguing and helping people. After my first year of law school, I started working for the public defender’s office in Washington County. This is where I got to see what the criminal justice system was really like and sent me on my path to being a criminal defense attorney.
While working at the public defender’s office I saw people at the lowest points of their lives. People who had made mistakes, people who were not getting a fair chance, and people who were facing criminal charges that should not be. The one thing all those people had in common was they were looking for help and I got to provide that. I have always enjoyed helping people whether it was teammates in sports, classmates in school, or my younger sisters. Criminal defense work for me is another way I get to help people. Specifically, help people get back on their feet and on a positive forward-looking path. Sometimes this means helping people who made a bad decision and trying to make sure the consequences do not ruin their lives. Other times it is helping people who did nothing wrong and should not have to face criminal charges at all. That last situation is probably the biggest reason I am a criminal defense attorney; the ability to make change and ensure the criminal system is fair for everyone.
Anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But if you ask people charged with a crime, they likely will tell you that is not how it feels. A criminal defense attorney gets to bring the criminal justice system back to the way it is supposed to be. We get to hold the other side of the case accountable for their actions whether it is a prosecutor, police officer, or an accuser. Just as there are laws people are not supposed to break, there are rules prosecutors and police Officers are supposed to follow. The biggest of these rules are the protections embedded within the Constitution. Every lawyer takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and I think many lawyers lose sight of that. But as a criminal defense attorney I get a chance to uphold the Constitution everyday and ensure that every person gets the same protections. Everyone learns about the Constitution at some point but not everyone gets to learn the ins-and-outs of it like lawyers do, and I take joy in ensuring that everyone receives those protections.
I get to help people who potentially had their Constitutional protections violated, often by someone who was educated in the Constitution. I get to make sure that everyone who is charged with a crime gets a fair chance at having their story heard. I get the opportunity to help people that were failed by the state and defend them against people who refuse to look beyond the charging paperwork. I get the opportunity to help people facing some of the toughest situations of their lives and ensure that they are treated fairly. I get to ensure that the system of Justice we have created is done correctly.
Innocence is the starting point for any case, not guilt.
I am a criminal defense attorney because Defendants are not numbers, they are human beings. They are community members, family, and friends and they deserve a voice. They are often frightened, confused, and nervous and they deserve comfort, support, and zealous advocacy. A person is neither defined at their lowest point, nor by the crime someone accuses them of committing. We are all better than that. We all deserve to be treated as our best.
Although I decided to become a criminal defense attorney when I was 16 years old, it took me 25 years to become that person. When I was a juvenile, I had the misfortune of finding my way into the justice system. Although my trouble was minor, I was afraid. I had never been in this situation and neither had my parents. My attorney answered our questions, provided support, and, most important, fought for me. I walked away from that experience wanting to help others caught in the justice system, like my attorney did for me.
While in law school, I had the opportunity to work as a certified student attorney with a county prosecutor’s office. I remember how in my interview I talked about wanting to protect public safety while upholding the constitutional rights of defendants. After law school, I landed a job prosecuting at the State level. As a prosecutor, it is easy to get caught up in group think. You feel good about your role in “protecting public safety.” Doing your job effectively often means dehumanizing defendants by viewing them as the crime they are accused of rather than the person they are, and their rights can get lost in the shuffle. Having a view of “justice” that differs from your colleagues is difficult and your discretion to do the right thing is never boundless. Your boss is an elected official and the public, driven by newspaper headlines and sensationalized local news, has a hard time sympathizing with “criminals.”
Please understand that I am not saying prosecutors are bad people. I have many friends who are prosecutors, and they are good people with strong morals. But my moral compass steered me in a different direction – back to the lawyer I dreamed to be as a 16-year-old kid. People sometimes ask how morally I can defend “criminals.” My answer is always the same, it’s easier to stand up for the rights our Constitution affords ALL individuals, than throw a human being behind bars for someone else’s version of “justice.”
My career experiences have given me many opportunities. I have had the fortune of many wins (and losses). I have appeared in over 60 of the 87 Minnesota county courts, argue cases in front of over a hundred judges, and argue numerous cases at the court of appeals. I even had the opportunity to appear in front of the same judge I appeared in front of as a juvenile defendant and to argue against the attorney that stood by my side and argued for me as a kid. I have been named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers and “Top 10, Under 40” by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. But I am proud to be an attorney, not because of these accomplishments, but because there is no better feeling and no better success than standing tall beside someone and fight for them. I get the fortune of seeing my clients as human beings. I hope 16-year-old Adam would be proud.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Absent a warrant, or an exception to the warrant requirement, law enforcement is not allowed to enter your home. There are also areas immediately surrounding your home, known as curtilage, that enjoy the same constitutional protections as your house.
Courts often look at the Dunn factors when determining what constitutes curtilage: (1) proximity to the home; (2) how is the area being used; (3) is the area surrounded by an enclosure; and (4) what steps are taken to exclude others from the area. Generally, curtilage will include areas around the house where the activities of being at home extend. This can include areas such as a detached garage, front or back porch, and driveway in certain circumstances.
These Fourth Amendment protections are not absolute, however. The general public, and law enforcement, can go onto a person’s property. Solicitors stop by. Kids selling things for their schools or extra-curricular activities. Canvassers for political campaigns. A neighbor to tell you about a neighborhood meeting. These people are all using what is called an implied license. This implied license allows people to approach and knock at the front door of a house. A totally reasonable thing to do.
The implied license is limited in time and purpose according to social norms. Florida v. Jardines, a United States Supreme Court case, reasoned that “[c]omplying with the terms of that traditional invitation does not require fine-grained legal knowledge; it is generally managed without incident by the Nation’s Girl Scouts and trick-or-treaters.” An implied license does not extend to all hours. If there is an emergency, then it is a different story. If the homeowner routinely accepts visitors at all hours, and there is evidence of that, then it is a different story.
Florida v. Jardines involved a drug-sniffing dog on a front porch. It was not a simple approach to the homeowner’s front door. The cops do not need typically need a warrant for that. The implied license is not unlimited in scope. Officers cannot enter a constitutionally protected area without a customary invitation to conduct a search. In Jardines, the officers’ entry onto the curtilage of the home was not explicitly or implicitly invited.
Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed implied licenses in LaClair v. Commissioner of Public Safety. In this case, our firm successfully obtained a reversal from the court of appeals when the police officer exceeded the scope of an implied license. The cop patrolled a neighborhood and saw a car parked in a driveway with its headlights on. An hour later, the same officer drove by and saw the headlights still on. He parked at the end of the driveway, activated his squad’s spotlight and approached the home. He walked up the driveway and noticed a puddle, which he thought was urine near the vehicle. He went to the passenger side and saw a person in the driver’s seat slumped over the center console. He then opened the driver’s door without knocking or announcing.
In LaClair, the district court judge reasoned that the driveway is a place an ordinary visitor would be expected to go. The court of appeals did not agree. The court of appeals reasoned that the district court did not consider time the officer entered the driveway for a non-emergency situation, which was at one in the morning. The court of appeals decided these were not circumstances where a person would approach a home in the middle of the night; and reversed the driver’s license revocation stemming from the DWI arrest.