Update (June 1, 2012): After a hearing, Hennepin County District Court Judge Mabley denied Senser’s motion for acquittal or a new trial. The judge said that the verdict itself was based on jury instructions that were a correct statement of Minnesota law, so the verdict should be upheld. The judge found no support for Senser’s motion despite the fact that jurors believed that Senser knew she hit a vehicle and not a person. He explained that this reaffirmed that the jury correctly applied the law that they were given.
Because Senser’s motion was denied, she will be sentenced on July 9. However, an appeal is certain, and her attorney can ask that her sentence be stayed pending the appeal. We’ll see how the case continues on July 9.
Original Post (May 16, 2012): Eric Nelson, Amy Senser’s attorney, recently sent a subpoena to Kare 11 requesting video of an interview with a juror after Senser was found guilty in two of three felony counts in connection with a fatal hit-and-run accident. Specifically, Senser was found guilty of criminal vehicular homicide based on failing to notify authorities and leaving the scene of the accident in violation of Minnesota Statutes § 609.21 subd. 1(7). This statute was interpreted by the Minnesota Supreme Court in State v. Al-Naseer, 734 N.W.2d 679 (Minn. 2007), to require that the offender know that she either hit a person or a vehicle. At Senser’s trial, the attorneys focused solely on whether Senser knew she hit a person. However, it recently came out that the jurors found Senser guilty because they thought that she hit a vehicle but not a person.
It’s early in the process, but my best guess is that Nelson is going to argue that there was no evidence presented that Senser knew or should have known that she hit a vehicle. Rather, the evidence could only, at most, suggest that she knew she hit a person. Because the jury found that she did not know she hit a person, the verdict should be set aside because there is no factual basis to find that she hit a vehicle. However, the law allows a person to be found guilty if they knew they hit a vehicle, so I’m sure that the State will argue that the jury had sufficient facts and correctly found Senser guilty.
It will be interesting to see how this issue and other post-conviction issues develop. Regardless of the victor, it should be a close legal question. Personally, I see the lesson that Minnesota criminal defense lawyers should carefully consider jury instructions at trial. This would not be an issue if the attorneys had deleted the clause that referred to Senser’s knowledge of hitting a vehicle. If the attorneys agreed that was not at issue, it should have been removed. Next up, Senser is set to be sentenced July 9.