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Overview - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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Overview

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure (M.R.Cr.P.) set forth the procedures to be followed in the prosecution of felonies, gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors. Minnesota statutes define crimes and offenses and also set out some procedures. The majority of Minnesota’s substantive criminal laws are in chapters 609 (Non-traffic crimes), 169 (Traffic laws), 169A (DWI laws), and 171 (driver’s license laws). Municipalities and Counties also have municipal and county ordinances that people may be prosecuted for violating. This is an overview of the procedure that is followed as an individual charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor moves through the judicial system.

A. Substantive Minnesota Criminal Law Concepts

There are four classes of offenses in Minnesota

  1. Felonies
  2. Gross Misdemeanors
  3. Misdemeanors
  4. Petty Misdemeanors

The first three offenses are crimes because upon conviction of any of them the defendant is subject to incarceration. The core definition of a crime is behavior that is prohibited or required by law the penalty for violating is some amount of incarceration. Offenses classified as Petty Misdemeanors are not considered or deemed to be crimes because there is no possibility of incarceration upon conviction for them.

A felony is any offense punishable by more than one year in prison.

Gross misdemeanors are offenses punishable by imprisonment for no more than one year and no more than a three thousand ($3,000) dollar fine.

Misdemeanors are offenses punishable by no more than ninety (90) days in a local, county, or regional detention facility and a one thousand ($1,000) dollar fine.

Petty misdemeanors are punishable solely by a fine of no more than three hundred dollars ($300.00) and are not criminal offenses. However, a petty misdemeanor under Minn. Stat. § 152.15, subd. 2(5), or chapter 168 or 169 remains subject to a maximum fine of $100.00, except that a violation of chapter 168 or 169 that was originally charged as a misdemeanor and is being treated as a petty misdemeanor is subject to a maximum fine of $200.00.

Individuals charged with felonies, gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors are entitled to have their guilt proven in a jury trial (M. R. Cr. P. 26.01[1]). Individuals charged with petty misdemeanors are entitled to have their guilt proven in a court or judge trial.

B. Chart of Minnesota Offenses

Offense: Behavior mandated or prohibited by statute, non-compliance results in a monetary and or incarceration

Crime: An offense which, upon conviction, can be punished with incarceration

Offense(1)(2) Sentence Post Conviction Custody Probation Length See MSA 609.135 Prosecutor Arrest See MSA 629.34 Charging Methods Bail See MSA 629.471 and MRCP Rule 6 Trial
Felony (3) 1 year and a day minimum. Fine unlimited Prison/Local Jail/Workhouse Longer of 4 years or prison term for offense County Attorney from County where offense was committed Probable cause. Hearsay based (go to proof levels). No in presence requirement. Complaint. See MRCP Rule 6.01 subd. 4 or Indictment by Grand Jury Unlimited Jury
Gross Misdemeanor 1 year maximum. $3,000 maximum fine. Local Jail/Workhouse 2 years. Some statutory exceptions with longer periods. Six years for DWI and CVO. See MSA 609.135 City Attorney from City where offense committed. Note: some cities contract with their relevant County Attorney to prosecute local offenses. In presence. Probable cause. Statutes authorize hearsay-based probable cause for some offenses. See 629.366, 629.341, 169A.40. Merch., Dom. Ass. DWI Complaint or indictment (one exception Gross Misdemeanor DWI can be tab charged) 2x maximum fine. DWI=4x DAC IPS=4x Assault=6x Jury
Misdemeanor (4) 90 days. $1,000 maximum fine. Local Jail/Workhouse 1 year, except 2 years for i.e. DWI, Dom. Ass., Inv. of Priv., Ind. Cond. See MSA 609.135 City Attorney from City where offense committed. Note: Some cities contract with relevant County Attorney to prosecute local offenses. In presence. Probable cause. Statutes authorize hearsay-based probable cause for some offenses. Citation. See MRCP Rule 6.01 subd. 4. Tab charge. See MRCP 1.04(c). Complaint, indictment possible. 2x maximum fine. See MSA 629.471. DWI=4x Dom. Ass.=10x Assault=6x Jury
Petty Misdemeanor No incarceration. $300 maximum fine. No post conviction custody Fine can only be stayed for up to 1 year. City Attorney from City where offense committed. Note: Some cities contract with relevant County Attorney to prosecute local offenses. In presence. Probably cause citation (presumed). Can arrest and tab charge if danger to self or others or reason to believe person will not respond to citation. Citation, Tab Charge, Complaint, Indictment (possible but infrequent) Not covered by MSA 629.471. Arguably 2x maximum fine. Judge (court). No jury.

(1) Offense level initially determined and defined by statute. I.e. robbery is a felony

(2) Offense level determined by sentence actually imposed. Example: a person is charged with a statutory felony but sentenced to 90 days in prison and assessed a $1,000 fine is deemed to be convicted of a misdemeanor. See MSA 609.13.

(3) A person convicted of a felony who receives a stay of imposition of sentence in lieu of a prison sentence, is place on probation and successfully completes probation is deemed to be convicted of a misdemeanor level offense. A gross misdemeanor is reduced to a misdemeanor in the same manner. Misdemeanors remain misdemeanors under this rule. See M.S.A. 609.13.

(4) Misdemeanor can be certified (reduced) to a Petty Misdemeanor, requires approval of defendant.

C. Standards of Proof

Stop Reasonable Suspicion
Arrest Probable Cause
Charge Probable Cause
Admission of Evidence Preponderance - Clear & Convincing
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Conviction Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

D. Pre-Trial & Trial Rights

While there are many procedural rights granted an individual charged with a felony, gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor, the following essential rights granted to felony, gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor defendant should be remembered and understood by someone practicing in the criminal law area.

  • Defendants are presumed innocent.
  • Defendant's guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before they can be convicted of the offense
  • The jury’s decision, guilty or innocent, must be unanimous,
  • Defendants may compel witnesses to appear at such trials through the issuance of subpoenas.
  • An individual may not be required to testify in any manner in a trial at which they are the defendant.
  • Defendants may, if they desire, take the stand and testify in their own behalf.
  • Defendants may cross examine any witness who testifies against them.
  • Defendants are entitled to a trial by a jury of six (6) persons if charged with misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and a jury of twelve (12) persons if charged with a felony.
  • Defendants are entitled to be represented by counsel either of their own choice or, if they are indigent, appointed by the court.

All of the above rights apply to a person charged with a petty misdemeanor except they are not entitled to a jury trial and are not eligible for a court appointed attorney.

E. Role of Defense Counsel

Defense counsel is obliged to serve the accused as his counselor and advocate with the courage, devotion and to the utmost of this learning and ability in order to protect against any conviction.

State v. Williams, 297 Minn. 76, 85, 210 N.W.2d 21, 26 (1973)

Stemming from this obligation, the duty of an attorney, whether privately retained or appointed by the court, is the same: to protect the rights of the accused...;to investigate properly and thoroughly prepare for trial; to keep in frequent touch with the client who has placed trust and confidence in the attorney ; and to counsel and advise the client in all the critical aspects of the case, which the attorney knows or should know are of importance to the client’s cause and which are necessary to a full understanding by the client of his case and the ramifications of decisions made by him. Only when these duties of counsel are fulfilled does a defendant truly receive Sixth Amendment protection, guaranteeing the kind of effective representation that the client has a right to expect and the advocate has a duty to provide.

Advising a defendant of a plea offer consists of more than communicating that the offer exists; rather it requires taking necessary measures to ensure that the defendant understands the implications and possible impact of accepting or declining the offer. Defense counsel is obliged to serve the accused as a counselor and advocate to the utmost of counsel’s ability. This includes taking additional precautions where necessary to ensure that an explanation has been understood.

F. Role of the Prosecutor

Prosecutors have an affirmative obligation to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial, no matter how strong the evidence of guilt. …….This is so because, as we have repeatedly said, a prosecutor “is a minister of justice whose obligation is to guard the rights of the accused as well as to enforce the rights of the public.” …………The role of an American prosecutor as a minister of justice is firmly established. ……..The government attorney is the representative “of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done; ….. The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict…….The primary responsibility of prosecution is to see that justice is accomplished. Thus, a prosecutor may not seek a conviction at any price.

We have identified numerous kinds of trial conduct that are improper for prosecutors. Some examples are: eliciting inadmissible evidence, …..alluding in argument to the defendant’s exercise of the right not to testify…….., or to the defendant’s failure to call witnesses,……. misstating the presumption of innocence, , or the burden of proof, interjecting the prosecutor’s personal opinion about the veracity of witnesses, inflaming the passions and prejudices of the jury, disparaging the defendant’s defense to the charges, and injecting race into the case when race is not relevant,…... Many of these prohibitions also appear in standards of conduct the American Bar Association has established for prosecutors and defense counsel alike. See ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Prosecution Function & Defense Function, Standards 3-5.5 to 3-5.9 (prosecution), 4-7.4 to 4-7.8 (defense)

ABA Standard 3-4.1 Availability for Plea Discussions

(a). The prosecutor should have and make known a general policy or willingness to consult with defense counsel concerning disposition of charges by plea.
(b). A prosecutor should not engage in plea discussions directly with an accused who is represented by defense counsel, except with defense counsel's approval. Where the defendant has properly waived counsel, the prosecuting attorney may engage in plea discussions with the defendant, although, where feasible, a record of such discussions should be made and preserved.
(c). A prosecutor should not knowingly make false statements or representations as to fact or law in the course of plea discussions with defense counsel or the accused.


Standard 3-4.2 Fulfillment of Plea Discussions

(a). A prosecutor should not make any promise or commitment assuring a defendant or defense counsel that a court will impose a specific sentence or a suspension of sentence; a prosecutor may properly advise the defense what position will be taken concerning disposition.
(b). A prosecutor should not imply a greater power to influence the disposition of a case than is actually possessed.
(c). A prosecutor should not fail to comply with a plea agreement, unless a defendant fails to comply with a plea agreement or other extenuating circumstances are present.