Court dismisses appeal in case of rural Northfield pedestrian's death - Northfield MN: Local

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Court dismisses appeal in case of rural Northfield pedestrian's death

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Posted: Monday, November 25, 2013 10:49 am | Updated: 8:09 pm, Tue Nov 26, 2013.

UPDATE 11:54 a.m.: Adds County Attorney Paul Beaumaster’s and defense attorney Mary Hahn’s comments.

A state appeals court has rejected the Rice County Attorney’s arguments regarding the dismissal of charges against a Northfield man accused of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of a rural Northfield woman.

The State Court of Appeals panel of judges Heidi S. Schellhas, Natalie E. Hudson and Renee L. Worke on Monday dismissed county attorney Paul Beaumaster’s appeal of a Waseca County District Court judge’s ruling that Beaumaster’s argument didn’t meet the “critical impact” test of showing how a dismissal would negatively affect the county’s ability to successfully prosecute the crime should it seek a new indictment.

“The state argues that we must reverse the district court’s dismissal of the indictment because the state otherwise will be assigned the same district court judge and, consequently, forced to submit instructions to a grand jury consistent with the district court’s order, which it argues is incorrect, if it seeks a new indictment,” wrote Judge Schellhas in the ruling. “We conclude that the state cannot satisfy the critical-impact test by asserting speculative arguments about the impact of the district court’s order on a new indictment.”

Michael Moreland, 56, was indicted of criminal vehicular homicide/gross negligence in the death of Kimberly Motzko, a neighbor who was out walking her dogs the morning of July 26, 2012, on a rural Northfield road. Moreland told investigators on the scene that the sun was in his eyes and that he didn’t see Motzko until it was too late.

A Rice County grand jury indicted Moreland on Jan. 29 after a day of testimony from first responders and investigators. A Minnesota State patrolman who conducted the crash reconstruction report from the incident testified that he found the cause of the crash to be inattentive driving, according to the transcript from the grand jury proceedings.

Moreland’s defense team, made up of David Hvistendahl and Mary Hahn, argued that the prosecutor in the case failed to properly instruct the grand jury by not including a lesser-included offense of careless driving.

The Waseca County District Court judge hearing the case agreed with them and dismissed the charges.

Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster has argued that the state is not required by law to advise grand jurors of lesser-included offenses, and that case law used to back up the defense’s argument only applies to regular juries, not grand juries.

Beaumaster said on Monday he thought it was a good ruling for his office in that it helps decide the prosecutor’s next course of action. Moreland’s defense attorneys had argued that the errors made in instructing the jury were such that a new indictment would be impossible.

The appeals panel rejected that argument, saying the errors were neither “intentional nor material.” That opens the door for a possible new indictment, according to Beaumaster.

“We will be reviewing it for charging because the court said we can,” he said.

Defense attorney Hahn said via email that her office is happy with the dismissal, but disagrees that the errors were not intentional and material.

“Regardless, the court dismissed the appeal and we’re pleased with this result,” she said.

During oral arguments in the county’s appeal of the district court ruling last September, one key point the judges emphasized was the fact that the prosecutor had not addressed critical impact in his appeal or any motions that followed. The state must always demonstrate critical impact — meaning that the lower court’s order will have non-curable effects on the state’s ability to prosecute the case further — in appeals, according to Judge Hudson.

“Why can’t you reconvene a grand jury and start over?” Judge Worke asked Rice County Assistant Attorney Terence Swihart. “The issues you are attempting to raise are a little complicated and complex but I can’t get beyond this threshold; why can’t you simply reconvene another grand jury or for that matter just bring a complaint?”

Reach Managing Editor Jaci Smith at 333-3134, or follow her at @FDNJaciSmith

© 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss

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  • MrsFields posted at 8:15 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    MrsFields Posts: 254

    “We will be reviewing it for charging because the court said we can,” he said.

    Is Beaumaster really considering this??

  • MrsFields posted at 7:34 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    MrsFields Posts: 254

    I don't believe anyone was convicted. Beaumaster can't even get the case to trial.

  • unconcernedcitizen posted at 7:27 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    unconcernedcitizen Posts: 612

    I guess if actually expecting county attorneys to do their due diligence and actually follow the law makes one a troll, count me in.

  • KPRes posted at 5:43 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    KPRes Posts: 9

    Ah yes. The TROLLS are back! Actually, y'all never went away. Shameful, trying to mount a preemptive defense through the press in order claim a tainted jury in an appeal once convicted. LOL!

  • MrsFields posted at 3:52 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    MrsFields Posts: 254

    Punitive harassment, indeed. And to what end? It is likely to cost the county thousands of dollars since another judge ruled against Beaumaster in trying to limit the legal fees owed to Moreland on the county's appeal. And I still haven't seen a shred of evidence that comes close to legitimizing a felony charge in this case. With all of the negative publicity the Rice County Attorney's office has received in this case it is no very likely, in my opinion, that Beaumaster will find a judge to sign off on a felony charge (certainly not Judge Collins, who will likely continue to be assigned to the case), or find a Grand Jury that will re-indict now that Beaumaster must present the real facts of the case, rather than play hide-the-weenie and omit information that would tend not to support his case.

  • DavidGross posted at 1:06 pm on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    DavidGross Posts: 370

    Very much what I predicted, here, based on a basic respect for the process, the constitution, and a little common sense.
    "Unpublished" opinion - "Unpublished opinions are issued in cases that are less complicated, that involve legal issues that have already been decided in published opinions, or that will affect only the parties to that particular case. These opinions are usually shorter, do not contain extensive discussion of the facts, and are not generally relied on by other courts to the same degree as published opinions."
    In other words, the appeal by the County Attorney was very much a waste of time, without, literally, fundamental basis, and arguably, essentially, punitive harassment.
    But, out of respect for the office shown by the Court of Appeals (they cut him a great deal of slack and handed out an excuse - this time), he apparently has the option to attempt to recharge the case according to law, if he can; which is what I said that he should have done in the first place instead of appealing the decision. There are two options as I see it.
    1) Reconvene a Grand Jury and do it right, the second time, with full exposition of all the applicable law, including the basic speed law, the stark differences in windshield glare between the vehicles used/compared (and documented by the state's own photographs - absolutely negating the basis for the test performed), and the obligations of a pedestrian to act according to the rules of the road for her own safety.
    2) Issue a Formal Complaint which also takes into consideration the entire applicable law and sets forth the complete and relevant factual considerations concerning the applicable law to support a "probable cause" determination.
    Caveat/warning - A half-truth is a whole lie in either option. Judge Collins is familiar with the facts of the case and the applicable law. Any attempt to take a shortcut or to omit anything relevant to such a determination will be met with skepticism and rebuke as "deficient and misleading," the opposite of the honesty and good faith required of the office. No excuses allowed, this time.

  • ThunderHorse posted at 8:55 am on Tue, Nov 26, 2013.

    ThunderHorse Posts: 49

    We are all very sorry for your loss.

    That being said, the law is the law. Emotion should not be involved.

  • Drive Safe posted at 2:28 pm on Mon, Nov 25, 2013.

    Drive Safe Posts: 2

    Really? guess it's not your loved one that was killed

  • Hari posted at 12:05 pm on Mon, Nov 25, 2013.

    Hari Posts: 142

    Drop the whole thing and be done with it.


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