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Joseph Livingston

Other Minnesota exonerations
On December 12, 2015, police officers in Wright County, Minnesota discovered 33-year-old Joseph Livingston parked in the middle of a road. He was slumped over his steering wheel with 11 cans of compressed-air dust remover in the car, 10 of which were empty.

A blood test was positive for difluoroethane, a common propellant in canned-air dust removers. The state charged him with driving, operating, or physically controlling a motor vehicle while “knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance.”

On November 23, 2016, Livingston pled guilty to the charge in Wright County District Court. He was sentenced to five years and two months in prison.

In October 2017, in an unrelated case, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that difluoroethane was not a “hazardous substance.”

In December 2017, Livingston’s attorney in the office of the state appellate public defender filed a petition to vacate the conviction. On December 18, 2017, Livingston was released on parole. On January 26, 2018, the petition was granted, and the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Mr. Livingston then retained attorney Samuel Savage, who then filed a petition seeking compensation under the state compensation act. A District Judge ruled that Livingston was not entitled to compensation. The judge held that “a change in interpretation of the law” that stated difluoroethane was not a hazardous substance under the statute was the reason for the reversal, “not because he presented evidence that established that a crime was not committed.”

Savage appealed, and in May 2020 the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed. The appeals court noted that the compensation statute requires that an individual obtain relief from a conviction on grounds “consistent with innocence.”

The court declared, “[W]e conclude that Livingston was exonerated simply because he committed no crime, which is a ground consistent with innocence.” On April 7, 2021, the Minnesota Joint House/Senate Subcommittee on Claims voted to award Livingston $225,000 in compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/14/2022
Last Updated: 7/14/2022
Most Serious Crime:Traffic Offense
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Sentence:5 years and 2 months
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No