Minnesota needs judges to put public safety first

Minneapolis needs more cops to help stem the explosion of violent crime in the city. But that will only do so much. There is very little point apprehending violent criminals if the judiciary are simply going to let them go. Sadly, in all too many cases, that is what they have been doing.

Jacob Andrew Huey was charged with 1st degree aggravated robbery for a carjacking and assault in Golden Valley. Of Huey’s fifteen prior convictions, eight are for felonies and all of them have been stayed. This means that the judge did not execute or impose the full sentence available. The sentence, such as jail time, is typically left hanging over the person’s head in order to encourage better behavior in future without subjecting them to jail. It might not be a bad idea for first time offenders, but is it reasonable to extend this to the same person eight times?

Donchevelle Rayshawn Bowles is charged with attempted murder, aggravated robbery and 1st/2nd degree assault for a shooting in Spring Lake Park in June. Bowles has a prior conviction for 1st degree aggravated robbery. According to Minnesota sentencing guidelines, the penalty for Bowles’ previous offense is a presumed prison sentence. Yet Hennepin County Judge Regina M. Chu opted for a dispositional downward departure and stayed the sentence.

James R. Beckman is charged with randomly shooting dead a 45-year-old man in St. Cloud in June. As Alpha News reports:

Beckman had a felony conviction for third-degree assault in 2018 in Redwood County. His 18-month sentence on that conviction was stayed by Judge Patrick Rohland.

Most recently, Beckman was convicted in Redwood County in October 2020 on felony counts of third-degree assault and fifth-degree narcotics, and a gross misdemeanor charge of domestic assault.

According to court records, the 15- and 13-month sentences on the third-degree assault and narcotics convictions were stayed, and Beckman was instead sentenced to 115 days in local jail on each charge. The 365-day sentence on the domestic assault conviction was reduced to 90 days in local jail. Beckman was credited with 77 days already spent in jail and was placed on probation, again by Judge Rohland.

Beckman was back in court on March 1 of this year and was found to have violated the terms of his probation. Instead of having his probation revoked and his sentences executed, Beckman was again ordered to serve only 90 days in local jail on the probation violation. Under Minnesota law, offenders are only required to serve two-thirds of their sentence incarcerated, or 60 days in this case, leaving Beckman free by May.

The excellent CrimeWatchMpls Twitter feed provides many more such examples.

Minnesota’s ‘revolving door courts’ are a serious problem for its residents. The vast majority of violent crime is committed by a small number of people: according to one study, one percent of the population of the United States accounts for 63 percent of all violent crime convictions. Our judges need to focus on protecting Minnesotans from these people, not on extending them chance after chance indefinitely.

The focus on fighting crime in the Twin Cities and state more generally has usually been on the police. Our judges should play their part, too.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.