Being charged with a crime – any crime – is a scary proposition. If you are facing Minnesota felony charges, then if convicted you may be un-employable, and you will lose your right to vote and your gun rights. That's why you need to call a Minnesota Felony Criminal Defense Attorney ASAP. If you’ve never been charged with a crime before, you may be curious as to what the typical procedures are for going to Court. When do you go to Court? What happens at a Court appearance? When is a trial? This guide provides some basic information on what to expect.
Gross Misdemeanor or Felony Cases:
Gross misdemeanor and felony cases have different procedures from misdemeanor cases. A gross misdemeanor is an offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. A felony is punishable by anywhere from a year and a day in prison to life in prison.
Common gross misdemeanor offenses include 2nd and 3rd degree DWI, violation of an order for protection or harassment restraining order, 5th degree criminal sexual conduct, domestic assault, malicious punishment of a child, assault, interference with privacy, driving after cancellation, solicitation of a prostitute in a public place, and certain gun offenses. Common felony offenses include 1st through 4th degree criminal sexual conduct, domestic assault by strangulation, possession or dissemination of child pornography, 1st degree DWI, stalking, failure to register as a predatory offender, felon in possession of a firearm, burglary, robbery, murder, and white collar crimes.
Felony and gross misdemeanor cases have varying procedures, but the basic procedures are dictated by the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure. While some cases will have different types of hearings, such as a Rule 20 hearing or a Franks hearing, most cases proceed in the following manner:
Bail Hearing and Rule 5 Hearing:
A Rule 5 hearing is your first appearance on the case. If you have been arrested, your Rule 5 hearing will likely occur at the same time as your bail hearing, although this does not occur in all jurisdictions throughout Minnesota.
At your bail hearing or Rule 5 hearing, whichever comes sooner, you will be given a copy of a formal complaint. The formal complaint will outline the charges against you. The Judge will explain your rights to you and also decide what conditions of release to set for your case.
When the Judge determines bail, he will have to weigh certain factors. Like in misdemeanor cases, the Judge is required by the Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 6.02 subd. 1, Article 1 Section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution, and years of case law from the Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court to set money-only bail without other conditions of release. What this means is that the Judge must set an amount of bail that allows you to be released from custody without complying with any Court-ordered conditions, such as alcohol monitoring, a no-contact order, or monitoring from probation. The Judge may, in his or her discretion, also set a lower amount of bail, or release you on your own recognizance, subject to certain conditions of release, such as alcohol monitoring or no-contact with an alleged victim.
There is no maximum amount of bail the Judge may set on felony cases. The amount of bail is entirely subject to the Judge’s discretion. On gross misdemeanor offenses, the Judge has restrictions similar to those imposed on him or her when setting bail on misdemeanor cases.
The maximum amount of bail that may be set for a gross misdemeanor is set by statute and depends on the type of offense you are charged with. The maximum bail for a misdemeanor is at either 2 times the maximum fine (i.e., $2000, or 2 times the maximum fine of $1000), 4 times the maximum fine ($4000), 6 times the maximum fine ($6000), or 10 times the maximum fine ($10,000). The maximum bail for a gross misdemeanor DWI is $12,000. The maximum bail for a gross misdemeanor assault or gross misdemeanor degree domestic assault is $30,000.
Rule 8 Hearing:
Some jurisdictions combine a Rule 8 hearing with a Rule 5 hearing. Other jurisdictions do not. At a Rule 8 hearing, you will once again be advised of the charges against you, and your rights will be explained to you. At this Rule 8 hearing, you will be permitted to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you choose to plead not guilty, you will proceed to an omnibus hearing or settlement conference.
At the omnibus hearing, you will be able to contest the State’s evidence, if the evidence was possibly obtained in violation of your constitutional or statutory rights. Some jurisdictions first have an “uncontested omnibus hearing,” where you determine what issues you would like to contest. Other jurisdictions proceed from a Rule 8 hearing directly to a “contested omnibus hearing,” but require you to file a written motion within 30 days of the Rule 8 hearing in order to set a contested omnibus hearing. It’s important that you have an attorney familiar with the County that you’re charged in, so that your attorney knows how to proceed.
Contested Omnibus Hearing:
Some jurisdictions will refer to the contested omnibus hearing as an “evidentiary hearing” or a “Rasmussen hearing.” For all intents and purposes, these are the same type of hearing.
If you have a contested omnibus hearing, the State will call witnesses to testify about why the evidence was not collected in violation of your constitutional rights. You will be able to question these witnesses during cross-examination. You will also be able to testify on your own behalf, if you choose to do so. The State or the Court cannot force you to testify.
Following the testimony, you will have an opportunity to argue why the evidence was collected in violation of your constitutional rights. Some Judges prefer arguments to be made orally immediately following the hearing, but most Judges will order you to submit a written brief summarizing your arguments.
Following an omnibus hearing or Rule 8 hearing, you will usually proceed to a settlement conference. You will only avoid having a settlement conference if you win your challenges to the State’s collection of evidence at a contested omnibus hearing and the State no longer has enough evidence to charge you with a crime.
At a settlement conference, the State will likely present an offer for you to plead guilty, either to the charged offense or a lesser offense. If you choose to plead guilty, you will then proceed to sentencing. If you choose not to plead guilty, you will proceed to trial.
You have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers or a Judge. If you elect to proceed with a jury trial, a jury of 6 people (in a gross misdemeanor case) or 12 people (in a felony case) will determine whether the State can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In order for you to be found guilty, the jury must unanimously agree that the State has proven you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
At trial, the State will call witnesses to testify against you. You have the right to cross-examine these witnesses. You also have the opportunity to object to any evidence the State is attempting to admit for the jury to consider.
You will also have the opportunity to present witnesses to testify on your behalf. You may also elect to testify on your own behalf. You cannot be forced to testify at trial by either the State or the Court.
Ideally, you will never have a sentencing, because you will be found not guilty of all charges. However, if you choose to plead guilty to a crime or are found guilty at trial, then the Judge will sentence you. Before sentencing, you will be interviewed by someone from the probation department in what is called a Pre-Sentence Investigation. After the interview, the probation officer will write a report and distribute the report to the Judge, the prosecutor, and your attorney.
At your sentencing, you will be permitted to make arguments for whatever sentence you feel is just. The State will also be permitted to make arguments for whatever sentence the State feels you deserve. You are permitted to have friends, family, co-workers, or anyone else you would like speak on your behalf at your sentencing. If there is a victim in your case, such as in a sex offense or domestic assault, the victim will be allowed to speak if he or she chooses to do so.
There are numerous different types of sentences you may receive on a felony case. For a guide to the types of sentences in felony cases, please see our Felony Sentencing Guide.
Like sentencing, ideally you will never have an appeal, because you will be found not guilty. However, if you are found guilty, you do have the right to appeal your Minnesota conviction. Appeals are complicated, as they have strict timelines and require strict compliance with highly technical procedures. If you have already been found guilty and would like to appeal your conviction, your best option is to contact an experienced criminal appeals attorney as soon as possible.