MINNEAPOLIS — A father who owed 11 years of child support for his two children cannot be punished because there's no proof that he didn't care for them, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in a split decision.
Larry Nelson, of Rochester, was convicted three years ago for failing to pay about $83,500 in child support. Nelson maintained the state did not prove that he had neglected to care for his children under the state law that makes failure to provide "care and support" a crime. The words "care and support" refer to financial obligations, prosecutors argued.
The high court, in a 4-3 decision Wednesday, sided with Nelson and agreed the law is unclear.
Justice David Lillehaug wrote in his dissent that the ruling "handcuffs" the state in prosecuting others who ignore child support requirements, according to the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1gyNfDn ).
"It is possible that, as a result of the majority's holding and in the absence of swift legislative correction, Minnesota could become the only state without viable criminal sanctions for failure to pay child support," he wrote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz said the Legislature should tackle rewriting the law when it reconvenes Feb. 25.
"I think the ball is back in the Legislature's hands, and I think we will take a good look at it this spring," said Latz, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. "We certainly want to have the capability for our prosecutors to bring felony charges against someone who has failed to pay their financial obligations . If we need to clean up the statute to make sure that it is an available criminal charge that can be successfully prosecuted, then we'll find a way to do that, I expect."
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com