House passes enhanced penalty for prosecutor assault

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Prosecutors filing a complaint do so on behalf of the state. They are also the ones who must stand up in court and proclaim that a defendant is guilty of a crime and then prove so beyond reasonable doubt. Doing their job sometimes gets them viewed as the cause of all the defendant’s problems and retribution could occur.

Added protection from the state could be forthcoming.

Sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), HF1879 was passed 130-1 by the House Feb. 29. It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) is the sponsor.

The bill would add enhanced penalties for causing the death of or assaulting a prosecutor while that person is engaged in their official duties. It would also add “prosecuting attorney” to the a list of protected occupations — which now includes a peace officer and jail or prison guard — under the first-degree murder or assault and fourth-degree-assault statutes.

“It’s important from a societal standpoint to make it clear … that the laws of this state will be enforced, and if you shoot the embodiment of those who we expect to enforce these laws there will be an added penalty and you will be held accountable for that added assault or added crime against the state,” Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster told a House committee in January. Beaumaster is also president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) voted for the bill, but expressed concern that other lawyers or court personnel are not included in the bill.

“Sometimes you get people who are there as victims and may be angry at a defense lawyer or who are there on a civil case who may be angry at a lawyer that’s not a prosecuting attorney,” she said.

Cornish said those groups did not bring forth a proposal.

“The county attorney’s association brought the bill and they were asked about that — including them — but they didn’t want to spread the net so large.”

“This is sad because what we ought to be doing is spending some money to make our courthouses secure,” Liebling said.