Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says he won’t prosecute most felony cases that stem from pretextual traffic stops. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)
This week’s topics: Choi’s idea; Miller’s the man; State Fair alternatives
Query 1: To limit pretextual traffic stops, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says his office will no longer prosecute most felony cases stemming from “non-public-safety traffic stops,” or after vehicle searches “based solely on consent, without any other articulable suspicion.” Sen. Warren Limmer responded that the public should be outraged. What’s your response?
Abou Amara, antitrust and civil rights attorney, former aid to the MN House Speaker: The important words in this proposal are “non-public-safety-related.” In cases where an officer sees a threat to public safety, the officer can still take action and the prosecutors will still prosecute. So this is not a question about whether we’re going to protect public safety. This is a question about whether the office is going to prioritize its resources and focus on violent crimes, instead of crimes that we know are low-level, non-threatening public safety events—and which we know lead to racial disparities. If you’re in Ramsey County, you’re four times more likely to be pulled over if you are a person of color and we know that those stops then are used to expand all kinds of searches beyond what’s necessary to public safety. So I think this is a prudent proposal. We’ve got to address some of these systemic disparities. And that’s what I think County Attorney Choi is doing.
Brett Corson, Freeborn County Attorney: I would just say our approach would be different. I think the law is pretty strict in making sure that there is a true consent, versus someone who is maybe in a custodial situation and feels that they have to give consent. So in those situations, when we have a valid stop and we have valid consent, our position would be that we would pursue any of those felony charges. So, for example, if there’s a traffic stop and you find that the person is in possession of weapons or guns and they’re not allowed to possess guns because of a prior, or any such felony charge that would arise from that, we would pursue that—at least in this jurisdiction.
Mike Freiberg, attorney, DFL House member: I did read some descriptions of this, saying that [Choi] plans to not charge most crimes that result from that. I don’t know exactly what criteria he uses to determine which crimes he willcharge. But I do think there is a serious problem with pretextual stops. In the House caucus, we’ve been trying to address that issue and I know there are several members who’ve taken a keen interest in it and are working hard on it. If this is a way to eliminate the disparities in criminal justice enforcement as it happens sometimes, then I think it’s probably a good idea.
Jennifer DeJournett, GOP political operative: I agree with Senator Limmer. That’s ridiculous. So if they stop someone who is alleged to have done a felony crime, police are supposed to look the other way? That’s ridiculous!
Sarah Walker, political consultant: I think if you dig in deep into what John Choi actually said, there is a pretty big caveat in that, which allows exceptions for public safety. So, I would say this is more of a PR stunt for a very progressive county than it is substance. Who is going to make the discretionary decision of when public safety is at issue? Particularly the line prosecutors who do the day-to-day work, I can’t imagine a situation involving guns or significant drugs where they aren’t going to say there is a public safety issue.
Query 2: Senate President Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, has been elected to replace Sen. Paul Gazelka as majority leader. What do you see as the biggest challenge Miller faces in that job?
Amara: I’ve interacted with him limited times. I think he’s a reasonable person. The biggest challenge he’s going to face, now that he’s the leader, is that it’s not just about what he thinks as an individual senator. It’s about whether is he going to take the extreme positions of his caucus on issues like COVID and vaccines. That’s going to be the balancing act for him—to strike the balance between what he thinks and what his community thinks in Winona, and then what his caucus thinks now that he’s got to represent the interests of all of them as well.
Corson: I think it’s probably creating consensus on issues, both within the Senate and then, hopefully, bridging that gap with the House where the DFL has the majority. It would be really nice to see Jeremy be able to bridge that gap and work with the House to make progress on a number of the issues that are out there—whether it’s police reform or penalties for serious crimes, any of that. I think that’s probably his biggest hurdle, considering that there just seems to be increasing polarization. I’d like to see Jeremy try and reach some common ground.
Freiberg: Where to start? There’s a lot of challenges with that job! Trying to hold together a group of senators would be a big challenge, just knowing the peculiarities of the Minnesota Senate. [Laughs.] Enforcing the rule that Senators can’t look at each other while they’re talking on the floor will be a problem.
DeJournett: I think the biggest challenge is going to be whatever is the outcome of redistricting, and how the Senate refocuses itself to look toward the suburbs for a path to maintaining the majority.
Walker: I think the biggest challenge is going to be trying to keep the Senate majority for the Republicans through the next election cycle. There are just a ton of dynamics going on. The biggest challenge will be running an effective campaign, with a dysfunctional GOP infrastructure, to try to maintain a Senate Republican majority.
Query 3: We were too busy to get to the Minnesota State Fair this year. If you went, tell us what we missed. If you didn’t, what did you do to occupy your time instead?
Corson: We didn’t go. Often times we do go, because our kids are showing livestock. But we were out kayaking on the Root River. And we had a family kickball extravaganza. I’ve got six brothers and sisters and a lot of nephews and nieces and grandkids and stuff like that. So we had a kickball extravaganza and kayaking.
Freiberg: I did not go. I had concerns about the lack of safety protocols that the fair put in place and I have children that are too young to be vaccinated. So I felt like I owed it to them not to go to a place where there was no mask requirement and no vaccine requirement. So to occupy my time, I enjoyed the weather with my kids outside and tried to get them ready for school, went school supply shopping. You know, glamorous stuff like that.
DeJournett: I did not go, because I am getting ready for my son’s senior year of high school and I’m fixing my house so that I can have people eat cake in my garage.
Walker: I am one of the people who did not attend the State Fair this year. Instead, we took a nice drive to Lake Pepin and went to Franconia Sculpture Park. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do. It’s only like 45 minutes or an hour away. It’s pretty cool!