The justice system worked in a recent case for Twin Cities criminal defense lawyer Lynne Torgerson.
It wasn’t memorable for novel facts or ground-breaking legal issues. Rather, it was the outcome: Her client, in his early twenties and facing serious, life-altering charges, hugged his father upon hearing the not-guilty verdict. Then the jurors came over and shook his hand.
It’s one of many success stories from her 20-year career defending the rights of the accused.
As a law student, Torgerson was fascinated by the pivotal 4th and 5th Amendment cases from the 1960s and ‘70s that have shaped modern-day criminal practice.
“And I guess I’ve always had a heart for my clients,” she says. “Many of them don’t have prior criminal records. A lot of what I do is protect careers and futures.
“No one goes into criminal defense to be popular,” she continues. “Asserting people’s rights is not very pretty.”
A recent victory, involving criminal sexual conduct and a child victim, aptly demonstrates that point. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari in Bobadilla v. Carlson, letting stand a decision favorable to her client from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 08-3010.
Bobadilla was convicted in a state trial court. He appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which reversed, agreeing with Bobadilla that his Confrontation Clause rights were violated when the trial court allowed videotape evidence of a conversation between the victim and a social worker. The State appealed, and the Minnesota Supreme Court reinstated Bobadilla’s conviction.
Then Torgerson got involved in the case, bringing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Bobadilla’s behalf in federal district court. Judge Patrick Schiltz reversed the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision.
The case’s import is three-fold, she says.
“Bobadilla was convicted by an absent, unsworn witness -– he never had the right to confront or cross-examine him. Those are fundamental rights in our Sixth Amendment,” says Torgerson.
“It also has a tremendous impact in the state with regard to police procedure in child sexual assault cases.
“With the habeas claim, the odds were definitely against us. A lot of people were surprised by Judge [Patrick J.] Schiltz’s decision, although it definitely was the correct decision.
“The district court made findings that the Minnesota Supreme Court had ‘unreasonably applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent,’ and it made an unreasonable determination of facts, given the evidence in the case. Those are strong conclusions.”
Torgerson is running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District of Minnesota.
– Jane Pribek