On March 24, 2012, St. Louis Park police arrested John Bayiha after responding to a call from a local hospital. There, they spoke with the sister-in-law of the alleged victim, who reported that earlier in the day Bayiha had accused his wife of infidelity, taken her cell phone, pushed her to the floor and attempted to strangle her.
Bayiha denied the allegations, but prosecutors charged him with felony domestic violence, a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Bayiha was also charged with misdemeanor domestic assault, which would have carried an additional penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
At the trial, Bayhia’s lawyer argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt and elicited testimony that called into question the credibility of both Bayiha’s wife and of the sister-in-law. Based in part on that testimony, the jury acquitted Bayiha of all charges—but, because of recent changes in Minnesota’s domestic violence laws, he was the exception, not the rule.
The Sharp Spike in Minnesota Domestic Violence Convictions
In the decade from 2003 to 2013, domestic violence convictions in Minnesota increased by more than 180%, from 229 to almost 1,500—and an increasing number of those convictions resulted in prison time. In 2013, 315 people convicted of domestic violence were sentenced to an average of 2 years in prison compared to just 44 ten years earlier, according to data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
The sharp spike in convictions was not the result of increased police vigilance or more reports of domestic violence. Rather, it was because of significant changes in the state’s domestic violence laws, including the following 3:
- In 2005, a new law changed domestic violence by strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony
- In 2006, a law expanded the list of prior misdemeanor offenses that qualify for a felony, increased the back period for charges to 10 years, and stated that, in assessing prior offenses, prosecutors could include those which involved different victims
- In 2007, legislators gave judges the power to issue special domestic abuse no-contact orders (DANCO)—different from other no-contact orders which are issued at the petitioner’s request.
What Is Domestic Violence in Minnesota?
In Minnesota, domestic violence is defined as intentionally inflicting physical harm or causing fear of immediate physical harm or death to another family or household member. This includes parents and children, blood relatives, former and current spouses, former and current co-habitants, people who have a child together, a pregnant woman and the man alleged to be the father, and people involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship.
In most cases, “domestic assault” in the state is treated as a gross misdemeanor punishable by 20 days to 1 year in jail and a fine not to exceed $3,000. A defendant who has 2 or more prior domestic violence convictions can be charged with a felony punishable by 45 days to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Other domestic violence crimes include domestic assault by strangulation, criminal sexual conduct against a family member, and kidnapping or false imprisonment against a family member.
If a defendant uses a gun in a domestic assault, domestic assault by strangulation or assault against a family member (in the 1st to 5th degree) and is convicted, he is required to forfeit the gun and is prohibited from owning a gun for 3 years to life, depending on whether the gun was used in the crime. If someone violates this prohibition (for example, if he is found to own a gun at a time when he is not permitted to), he can face up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
You Need to Mount the Best Criminal Defense Possible
State legislators in Minnesota—and every other state—amend criminal laws for a variety of reasons, but often because of changing social norms and pressure from special-interest groups. It can be a challenge for all but an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand and mount a strong defense against charges related to this continually shifting set of laws.
At Segal Defense, we thoroughly understand criminal law in Minnesota and can tailor a defense which will address your specific needs. Charles Segal has more than 20 years of criminal law experience in Minnesota and has been recognized as one of the top 100 DWI attorneys in the state by the National Advocacy for DUI Defense (NAFDD), and one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Minnesota by the American Society of Legal Advocates (ASLA). If you are facing criminal charges and need the best defense possible, contact us today.
The information presented in this article is not considered legal advice. Please contact our law office to speak to an attorney about your case.