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Supreme Court Digest: July 26, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//July 27, 2023

The Supreme Court chamber at the State Capitol

The Minnesota Supreme Court chamber at the State Capitol. (File photo)

Supreme Court Digest: July 26, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//July 27, 2023



Attorney Discipline


On June 30, 2021, petitioner Michelle MacDonald was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Minnesota. In December 2021, MacDonald filed a petition for reinstatement to the practice of law. After a hearing, a panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board unanimously recommended against reinstatement, concluding that MacDonald failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that she had undergone the requisite moral change. The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility agreed with the panel. MacDonald contested the panel’s findings, conclusions, and recommendation, and asserted that she should be reinstated.

The Supreme Court held that, based on its independent review of the record, the panel’s conclusion that MacDonald had not undergone the requisite moral change for reinstatement to the practice of law was not clearly erroneous. Petition denied.

A21-1636 In re MacDonald (Original Jurisdiction)





Excited Utterances

The State of Minnesota appealed the order of the District Court granting defendant’s motion to suppress statements recorded on a body-worn camera. Law enforcement officers responded to a domestic disturbance 911 call and found an adult female locked out of her apartment while defendant and three of their children were inside. The woman told the officers that defendant, her former husband, had allegedly assaulted her, and she then described the current incident as well as past instances of physical abuse by defendant. The statements were recorded by an officer’s body-worn camera. Based on this investigation, the State charged defendant with one count of misdemeanor domestic assault. When the woman failed to respond to the State’s subpoena to testify during a pretrial hearing, the State sought to introduce the body-worn camera recording with the woman’s statements regarding defendant’s physical abuse into evidence. The District Court granted defendant’s motion to suppress the body-worn camera recording, concluding both that the statements themselves were inadmissible hearsay and that the admission of the woman’s statements on the recording would violate defendant’s constitutional right to confrontation. The State filed an interlocutory appeal of the District Court’s order. The Court of Appeals affirmed based on the Confrontation Clause violation only.

The Supreme Court held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the victim’s statements do not qualify as excited utterances under Minn. R. Evid. 803(2) and therefore should be suppressed as inadmissible hearsay. Affirmed.

A22-0161 State v. Tapper (Court of Appeals)


Right to Public Trial

Courtroom Closures

This case requires us to analyze the impact of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on a defendant’s right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 6, of the Minnesota State Constitution. Defendant was charged with first-degree aggravated robbery in December 2019. Pursuant to the restrictions placed on trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county submitted a trial plan for defendant’s trial that excluded all spectators from the courtroom but included a one-way video feed that would broadcast his trial in an adjacent courtroom. Defendant objected to the plan as a violation of his right to a public trial, but the objection was overruled, and the trial proceeded beginning in June 2020. Following the trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree aggravated robbery. Defendant sought a new trial based on an alleged violation of his right to a public trial. The State argued that the restrictions implemented by the District Court were too trivial to be a closure subject to analysis under the Sixth Amendment, but that, even if a closure occurred, it was constitutionally justifiable.

The Supreme Court held that (1) the exclusion of the public from a courtroom during the COVID-19 pandemic was a closure implicating defendant’s right to a public trial; (2) the findings of the District Court were insufficient to evaluate whether defendant’s public trial right was violated; and (3) the appropriate remedy under the circumstances present was a remand to the District Court to make sufficient factual findings about the decision to close the courtroom. Reversed and remanded.

A20-1638 State v. Bell (Court of Appeals)





Attorney Discipline


William Alexander Winter was conditionally reinstated to the practice of law.

A21-0831 In re Winter

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