Too Late To Challenge 20 Year Old Convictions Says MN Court

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, postconviction, time for filing.

Bradley Carl Brown v. State of Minnesota. MN criminal law, postconviction, time for filing

In 1983, Bradley C. Brown pleaded guilty to robbery in Olmstead County, Minnesota. In 1984, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. He didn't appeal either conviction, and apparently served the sentences.

In 2000, he was charged in federal court in Wisconsin with bank robbery. After his conviction, the he was sentenced to life without parole, based upon the fact that he had been previously convicted of two serious violent felonies. In 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the federal conviction.

Brown apparently spent the next ten years thinking about what had happened to him, and ultimately concluded that his predicament was caused by bad legal advice back in 1983 and 1985. He concluded that his attorney had never advised him that the Minnesota convictions could potentially be used to enhance a future federal sentence. From his federal prison cell, he filed a petition for postconviction relief with the Minnesota court.

The trial court in Olmstead County concluded that the petition was untimely, and that it should have been filed by 2007 at the very latest. The trial court also noted that the attorney was not obligated to inform the defendant about future federal enhancements.

Undaunted, Brown appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On March 24, 2014, the Court of Appeals agreed that the petition had been filed too late. On Appeal, Brown argued that the time for filing should be ignored under the concept of equitable tolling, and that hearing the petition was in the interests of justice. The Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, disagreed. It first noted that equitable tolling would apply only in the case of a "manifest injustice," but the court found that a hypothetical future consequence would not meet this standard.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

No. A13-1222 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 24, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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