Caroline Rice Wins Appeal
Appeals Court Criticizes Judge Richard Perkins
For Bias, Unfair Trial, Serious Mistakes
In an opinion released Monday, August 19, 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Caroline Rice had been wrongly convicted of depriving and interfering with the custody of her child. The appeals court reversed the convictions of Caroline because of “the cumulative effect of various evidentiary rulings, an erroneous jury instruction, and prejudicial judicial conduct deprived appellant of her due process right to a fair trial.” [What happens next? See the note at end of this blog.] The decision was by a panel of three judges that ruled 2-1 in Caroline’s favor. There was a dissent by one judge who said she would have confirmed the convictions. This dissent is discussed at the end of this blog.
In an earlier divorce case against her ex-husband, a very wealthy stock broker, a Hennepin County district court awarded Caroline custody of her two oldest daughters, but awarded custody of her youngest children, a girl and two boys, to her ex-husband. (At the time, the oldest girls had experienced abuse by their father.) Caroline lost her appeal in that case. Later, an order for protection was issued that prohibited Caroline from having any contact with any of her three youngest children. On October 31, 2010, the girl who was in her father’s custody, then 13 years old, ran from her father’s home in Minnesota to Michigan near the border with Canada. The girl, A.R., was with her mother for a day. Caroline was arrested in Michigan after she crossed the border back into the United States. She was put in jail in Michigan. After weeks in jail there, she was released and returned to Minnesota where she was arrested and put in jail in Carver County for about two months. In the trial before Judge Perkins, Caroline asserted the defense that she had a reasonable basis for trying to protect her child from abuse by her father. She submitted 273 pages of evidence of past abuse by A.R’s father but judge Perkins ruled this evidence was not relevant because it was evidence of abuse by the father two or more years before the dates of the crimes she was being tried for. Judge Perkins also excluded medical evidence of abuse because Carver County police concluded that the claims of abuse were unfounded.
Caroline tried to submit evidence that A.R. almost died because her father failed to send her to a dentist for a root canal operation to treat an infected tooth but Judge Perkins would not allow that evidence. Caroline’s two oldest daughters, L.R. and K.R. testified that they had been abused by their father, that K.R. had been dragged down a flight of stairs by her ankles by her father, but Judge Perkins later told the jury no evidence of child abuse had been submitted. During the trial, the Carver County prosecutor, Peter Ivy, raised numerous objections during Caroline’s opening statement which Judge Perkins allowed. Mr. Ivy complained that he was disadvantaged because “it appears I am beating up on Ms. Rice, denying her the right to counsel.” (Caroline had to be her own lawyer because the lawyers she retained were afraid of Judge Perkins. They knew that he was biased against Caroline and were afraid Judge Perkins would damage their careers.) Judge Perkins warned Caroline:
“And I’m telling you now very clearly on the record that I intend to be much more proactive in stepping in and stopping you on your lines of questioning. I’m going to do that because I believe if I don’t do that that is a great prejudice to the state because, in fact, it does look like they’re beating up on you, that they are stacking the deck against you. That’s not the case. So I’m going to be more active in that so that if anybody is going to be looking like a bully in this proceeding. If you will, in the eyes of the jury, it’s going to be me. So we can continue to try to maintain a level playing field to you that is fair to you as well as the state.”
During Caroline’s questioning of her witnesses, Judge Perkins began interrupting even though there was no objection by the prosecutor, Mr. Ivy. Judge Perkins interrupted Caroline’s direct examination of L.R. more than 90 times and interrupted Caroline’s direct examination of A.R. at least 45 times. Mr. Ivy occasionally raised objections which Judge Perkins upheld, but the majority of evidentiary rulings during Caroline’s questioning were by Judge Perkins sui sponte.Judge Perkins continued to do this when Caroline questioned her ex-husband and asked him if he ever sedated her daughter A.R. Judge Perkins told Caroline: “Ms. Rice, you cannot continue to lob hand grenades.” He continued saying that may not “just lob hand grenades out there . . . . I don’t know what they are, they’re not questions . . . .You continue to ask questions that are not germane to these proceedings . . . . You ask those questions of witnesses where it doesn’t fit.” Caroline later asked L.R. “Did you ever see your dad hit or hurt A.R.?” After allowing an objection that the question “assumes facts not in evidence”, Judge Perkins said “You’re not going to answer that . . . ” Judge Perkins then said to Caroline: “do you have any basis for lobbing that one out there. Do you have any factual basis for . . . asking that question?” Judge Perkins then continued: “Don’t start asking another question. You throw something out there and you just leave it hanging. . . . Throwing out an allegation about dad having harmed [L.R.] and/or [A.R.] . . . There is no foundation laid here.”
Caroline asked a later witness: “Have the children ever reported to you that anyone else has ever hit or hurt them?” Despite L.R.’s earlier testimony, Judge Perkins said: “Excuse me, there is no testimony that anyone has hit or hurt them except for the specific instances you’ve talked about and there is no person identified in those instances. So you’re suggesting that B.R. [Caroline’s ex-husband] has hit or hurt them. That’s not in evidence. You may want to rethink that question.” Caroline replied that her daughter’s testimony provided that evidence, to which Judge Perkins replied: “I’ve not heard any such testimony because they haven’t been on the stand. . . .[K.R. – Caroline’s oldest daughter] has not been on the stand.” Judge Perkins added that there was “no testimony that B.R. hurt or hit them.”
The daughter [A.R] who had run to her mother in Michigan testified that two restraining orders had been taken out in the past against her father “because he hurt me.” Her testimony about these incidents was brief and was punctuated by frequent interruptions by Judge .R. Perkins. A.R. was having trouble remembering details about each incident, leading Judge Perkins to cut off questioning about these incidents because A.R. had “provided the answers she has available by her own recall.”
The Appeals Court ruled that it was wrong for Judge Perkins to rule that evidence of earlier abuse was irrelevant because there was no requirement that evidence of abuse had to be recent. The Appeals Court said Caroline had a reasonable basis to believe her child needed protection. As to the evidence of abuse the police said was unfounded, the Appeals Court said it was not a good reason for excluding it because “the jury could have believed it.” Similarly, Judge Perkins was wrong to assume that because the social workers had rejected Caroline’s accusations of abuse there was no foundation for her affirmative defense. While the social worker’s opinions may have been permissible evidence, the ultimate question of whether Caroline’s belief that she needed to protect her child “was a jury question.” The Appeals Court concluded that Judge Perkins did not act impartially and had denied Caroline the right to present a complete defense. The Appeals Court said: “several of [Judge Perkins] comments made while raising or sustaining objections appeared to attack [Caroline’s] credibility, her evidence, or her theory of the case.” The Appeals Court went on to say Judge Perkins may not “reflect upon the character of the witness for truthfulness, or suggest that his testimony was untrue or unworthy of belief.”
What did Caroline “win”?
The Appeals Curt reversed the convictions of Caroline by Judge Perkins and said she could have a new trial – before the same biased judge, with the same unprincipled prosecutor, Peter Ivy, in the same court. And Carolyn will have to try the case herself again unless she can come up with tens of thousands of dollars to pay a lawyer and persuade the lawyer to risk his/her career by going before a biased judge who is determined to destroy Caroline. The truth is that Caroline is a broken woman. Her family was destroyed, her oldest daughter is dependant on her ex-husband, one of her sons is believed to be on drugs and the other son is pursuing a professional hockey career instead of going to college. The sons are being trained to be abusers like their father. Her daughter A.R. is a sad, thin, depressed girl now about 16 years old who is not allowed to have any contact with Caroline. Only L.R. is succeeding and she is totally alienated from her father. She is the one who turned down a scholarship to attend West Point because she would not serve a country that had treated her family so shabbily. The probability is that prosecutor Ivy will not try the case again, Caroline will not or cannot defend it, and the matter will be left unresolved. Caroline will not get justice. Four of her children will become damaged members of society.
Judge Heidi Shellhas dissented. She is a former Hennepin County District Court judge. She dissented because Caroline “did not object to the jury instruction.” It may have been a wrong jury instruction, but that did not matter. Caroline, a nonlawyer, who could not get a lawyer to properly defend her, should have known she had to object. Moreover, Judge Shellhas said, even if the jury instruction was wrong, it was not “plain error,” and should have been allowed. Also, Judge Shellhas said, the evidence of earlier abuse should have been excluded because it had occurred “at least two years before the dates of the offenses.” No matter how serious the abuse was, according to Judge Shellhas, Caroline did not have a reasonable basis for trying to protect her child. Further, the evidence was “an impermissible collateral attack on previous orders of the court.” Caroline had not appealed earlier orders of the court. It may have been because she lacked hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay lawyers. But that is not a good reason. She could not “collaterally” attack those orders in her defense of trying to protect her child. Although Judge Shellhas could not embrace Judge Perkins comments about “lobbying hand grenades”, he was simply trying to control Caroline and did not exceed his authority. Judge Shellhas is like most Appeals Court judges whose objective is to justify and rubberstamp decisions of district court judges. Judge Shellhas and Judge Perkins are a disgrace to Minnesota’s courts. They should be removed as judges.
Rice Appeal decision: Rice opinion