State justices uphold penalty for U student

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2012 - 7:45 PM

Instructors had given mortuary science major a failing grade, saying her Facebook posts violated code of conduct.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the University of Minnesota's discipline of a student over Facebook comments that her instructors found threatening, rejecting claims that flunking her infringed on her First Amendment rights.

The opinion backed a ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which upheld the U's right to give Amanda Tatro a failing grade after the one-time mortuary science student wrote on Facebook in 2009 that she wanted to use an embalming tool "to stab a certain someone in the throat."

Tatro, who has since graduated, claimed at the time that she was merely venting after a breakup.

But three instructors in the mortuary science program considered the posts threatening and said they violated the Student Conduct Code and rules governing cadavers donated to the U.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court said that her posts violated policies spelled out on a form she signed that prohibited blogging about the anatomy lab and cadaver dissection.

In 2009, a number of her posts referred to "playing" with "Bernie," the name Tatro gave the cadaver, an apparent reference to the 1980s comedy "Weekend at Bernie's."

One post read: "Who knew embalming lab was so cathartic! I still want to stab a certain someone in the throat with a trocar though. ..."

In the unanimous opinion, Justice Helen Meyer noted that the punishment came after a violation of "narrowly tailored" rules that Tatro had agreed to and then violated, justifying the failing course grade.

Five justices recused themselves from the case because of their ties to the U. The case was twice argued before the high court after Justice Paul H. Anderson removed himself following the first argument. Two substitute justices were appointed to hear the case.

Ruling not retroactive

Also Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that a U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering attorneys to tell their clients whether a plea carries a risk of deportation does not apply retroactively.

The 5-2 decision reversed a state Court of Appeals ruling that allowed Rene Reyes Campos to withdraw his guilty plea to simple robbery in Hennepin County District Court. Campos argued that he never would have pleaded guilty had he known it risked his being deported.

Campos cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a 2010 case that ordered attorneys to tell their clients whether a plea carries a risk of deportation.

In the ruling, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote that although there is no question the case would apply today, Minnesota law at the time did not require attorneys to notify clients of deportation risks.

In his dissent, Justice Alan Page argued that the 2010 decision does not invoke a new rule of criminal procedure because it does not break new ground.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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