In State v. Stevenson, associate Arielle Wagner and LGN partners Kate Baxter-Kauf and Kristen G. Marttila successfully litigated a pro bono criminal appeal by a client who was unlawfully detained by police.
In 2020, after defendant Antonio Stevenson’s car was pulled over in Hennepin County, he was arrested, charged and convicted of giving a false name to an officer.
The LGN attorneys won a reversal of Stevenson’s criminal conviction by arguing that a sheriff’s deputy unconstitutionally expanded the scope of a traffic stop by opening the defendant’s car door, without “individualized, reasonable and articulable suspicion.”
Working for the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Public Defenders Appellate Pro Bono Program, Wagner, Baxter-Kauf and Marttila took on the case in mid-2021. Wagner argued and principally authored the brief; Baxter-Kauf supervises the appellate criminal pro bono practice at Lockridge Grindal Nauen and was involved in research, writing and editing the brief; and Marttila was instrumental in research, editing and argument preparation.
Minnesota courts had not previously ruled on the issue before the state Court of Appeals: whether an officer’s act of opening a car door without knocking or otherwise announcing himself after a routine citation violation requires separate justification as an expanded seizure. The overturn of Stevenson’s conviction provided “needed clarity to officers and the public regarding what constitutes a reasonable stop-and-seizure practice,” Wagner said.
Wagner said the ruling affirmed that police “can’t expand the scope of a traffic stop without articulable justification. It was a victory for individual rights and hopefully will help protect Minnesotans from these kinds of unconstitutional searches in the future.
“We’ve been working with this program for a number of years, and this was the first time we were successful in having a client’s conviction overturned.”
Wagner, who joined the firm in 2017, said the case was “a great learning experience. When I was a newer associate, I didn’t have many chances to work with a case and do full briefing and oral arguments, so it was a good experience for me.”
In her everyday work, Wagner spends most of her time handling plaintiffs’ class action work, “which is very different from doing a criminal matter,” she noted.
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2022 here.