Downtown nuisance court advances

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June 23, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Robyn Repya
Robyn Repya

The Minneapolis City Council voted June 6 to designate Downtown as the site for the pilot \"nuisance court\" program that could dispense same-day justice (as soon as August) for livability crimes such as public urination. The council also released a report outlining steps to making the court a reality for Minneapolis.

10th Ward Councilmember Dan Niziolek said when someone commits a nuisance crime, they\'d be hauled on the spot to a nuisance court, with a volunteer judge presiding. The judge would then hear the charge and either dismiss the charge or issue a fine or community service order.

Low-level offenders \"usually don\'t get consequences in our current system,\" Niziolek said.

While he said there\'s hesitance about the goal of August implementation by some in the county courts - he\'s up to the challenge.

History of nuisance court

Philadelphia started a nuisance court in 1996, after judges and government officials became frustrated by ineffective prosecutions of graffiti, prostitution, public urination, drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Minneapolis\'s 1st Precinct SAFE team, along with members of the city attorney\'s office, recently traveled to Philadelphia to observe their program in action.

Niziolek said all of the crimes prosecuted in a Minneapolis nuisance court would be petty misdemeanors, which in Philadelphia are decriminalized offenses with no legal requirement for a public defender or city attorney.

He said the Philadelphia police have used this method at major sports events, such as Philadelphia Eagles football games, nicknaming \"Eagles Court.\" \"[Offenders] might be cleaning the stadium (as part of community service) before the game is even out,\" Niziolek said.

Why Downtown?

First Precinct Community Crime Prevention/SAFE team officer Craig Williams predicted that all city residents will want this program in their jurisdiction, but Downtown is the perfect place for the pilot because they can guarantee criminals to bring in.

Williams\' partner, Crime Prevention Specialist Luther Kruger told Niziolek\'s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee in late May that statistically, Downtown leads the city in crimes such as liquor offenses, disorderly conduct, and lurking or trespassing.

According to a city report, possible sites for a nuisance court are:

  • Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St.;

  • The county\'s Public Safety Facility, South 4th Avenue and 5th Street;

  • The 1st Police Precinct, 19 N. 4th St.;

  • The former Minneapolis police juvenile unit in City Hall, 350 S. 5th St.

    Pilot project logistics

    A city attorney\'s report presented to the public safety committee June 11 laid out costs and potential problems with a Minneapolis nuisance court.

    The report noted that because nuisance court crimes have not been decriminalized in Minneapolis, a city attorney (and defense attorney) is required when an individual is charged. The report stated Hennepin County\'s current out-of-court misdemeanor division costs $561,294. The estimated cost of the nuisance court model is between $482,762 and $681,762 for court staff, corrections specialists, part-time public defender and a deputy, a fulltime city attorney and criminal law clerk in addition to two part-time security guards.

    The report noted that the county\'s costs are based on five-days-a-week staffing; given that Minneapolis\'s nuisance court will only operate on weekend evenings, its costs could be considerably lower than the current system.

    Deputy City Attorney Dana Banwer said police often charge suspects under both city ordinances and state statutes, so if the nuisance court wanted to bypass defense attorneys, the city council would have to decriminalize some crimes and the legislature would, too.

    The report also states that Minnesota law prevents officers from arresting anyone for petty misdemeanors; currently, they are ticketed. Banwer told the council that, because of lack of evidence or time, suspects are rarely prosecuted, which Niziolek said was the reason livability crimes had no consequences. The report recommended that one way around this is to issue citations for a court date held in the evening or the next day.

    The city attorney\'s office will report back to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee on Wednesday June 25, 1:30 p.m., City Hall room 317, with details of the Philadelphia visit and more defined logistics on the pilot program.