Supreme Court explains rejection of Seward killer’s age appeal


Three weeks after Mahdi Ali was found guilty of killing three men during a failed robbery attempt at the Seward Market in Minneapolis last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court has explained why it allowed him to be tried as an adult.

The Supreme Court ruled that Ali should have been allowed to immediately appeal a Court of Appeals decision that rejected his attorney’s call for the indictment against him to be thrown out based on the dispute over his age. It was a fairly unusual move last April when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Ali’s appeal immediately.

The state claims that Ali was born on January 1, 1993, which would have made him 17 at the time of the killings, and eligible to be tried as an adult. Ali, however, claimed he was only 15 and should have been tried in the state’s juvenile justice system instead.

Ali argued that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman should have been required to prove Ali’s age beyond a reasonsable doubt rather than merely through the preponderance of the evidence, as a district court ruled.

The Supreme Court today officially rejected the argument, noting it’s fairly impossible to prove beyond all doubt, the age of people from countries that don’t keep birth records. Ali was born in Kenya:

.. because the criminal defendant and the State have an equal interest in trying the defendant in the proper court, preponderance of the evidence is the proper standard of proof in determining the defendant’s age for jurisdictional purposes. It is also significant that, although a defendant’s age may be rarely open to debate, when it is, it is the defendant who has direct knowledge and control over the information necessary to resolve the dispute. Requiring additional procedural safeguards puts an even greater burden on the State in a situation in which it is already at a disadvantage. Indeed, it is questionable in situations in which the defendant’s country of origin does not maintain birth records whether, in a case in which a defendant’s age is open to question, the State could ever meet a standard higher than preponderance of the evidence.

Ali’s attorney had filed papers in Hennepin County, asking for a new trial. Ali will be sentenced for his role in the killings later this month.

Here’s the full opinion.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Mark one up in the Good Decision column for the SC of MN.

    Reminds me of the one about the guy who murdered his parents and pled for lenience because he was an orphan.

  • matt

    More artificial distinctions created by the state to favor some and others not so much. If we had a marketplace for justice instead of a monopoly we could ensure judges that were of quality…giving them the ability to carry out justice on merit not technical points like how many times the planet has circled the sun since a person was born.

  • Heather

    Um, serves him right?


  • Jim Shapiro

    Matt – “More artificial distinctions created by the state…”

    Are you suggesting that the age of a violator should play no role in sentencing?

    While the distinct psychological developmental differences between the ages of 15 and 17 may be ambiguous, are you willing to draw the line between responsible adult and not responsible child someplace? At what age?

    And “If we had a marketplace for justice…” We already do. It’s created by the right to hire a lawyer.

    And if you’re concerned about cases being won or lost based on technicalities, the Law is a set of rules. Sometimes justice is done in spite of that.