Minnesota Rape Trial Can Continue Even After Defendant Overdoses

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Criminal law, defendant's absence from trial.

State v. Finnegan. MN Criminal law, defendant's absence from trial.

Jason Finnegan was on trial in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, for first degree criminal sexual conduct. On the second day of trial, the defendant failed to show up. At some point, his mother called the courthouse to report that he was in bed unresponsive. The trial judge dispatched some officers to go get him, "get some proper clothes on him, and get him to this courtroom as soon as possible."

The officer arrived, but reported back to the judge that the defendant's "condition was beyond an officer‘s ability." Instead, an ambulance had been sent to deal with what appeared to be an overdose. Wanting to get the trial concluded that day as scheduled, the judge concluded that the defendant's "conduct of choosing to overdose or whatever he did to make himself in a stupor waived his right to be present." Therefore, the trial concluded in the defendant's absence. The defendant was found guilty, and later filed a petition for post-conviction relief. He argued that continuing the trial in his absence was improper.

The case ultimately found its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The high court, in an opinion written by Justice Gildea, held that the trial court's actions were not clearly erroneous. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's denial of post conviction relief.

Justices Anderson, Page, and Meyer all dissented from this ruling.

No. A08-0777, 784 N.W.2d 243 (Minn. June 30, 2010).

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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