How Does a Misdemeanor Charge Work in Minnesota?
Being charged with a crime - any crime - is a scary proposition. You will need a Minnesota Misdemeanor Criminal Defense Attorney to help you. 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.
Procedures for misdemeanor charges are different from procedures for gross misdemeanor and felony charges. Misdemeanor charges carry a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Common misdemeanor charges include 4th degree DWI, 5th degree assault, 5th degree domestic assault, violation of an order for protection or harassment restraining order, disorderly conduct, obstructing the legal process, harassing phone calls, solicitation of a prostitute (not in a public place) and 4th degree criminal damage to property.
Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. If you were arrested during your encounter with the police, then the arraignment will also function as a bail hearing.
At the arraignment, the Judge will make you aware of the charges you are facing, the potential penalties, and the rights you have. The Judge may also set bail and conditions of release. 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.
The maximum amount of bail that may be set for a 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 misdemeanor DWI is $4,000. The maximum bail for a 5th degree assault or 5th degree domestic assault is $10,000.
At your arraignment, you will have an opportunity to discuss the charges with the prosecutor, if you would like to do so. You also may plead guilty to the charged crime or a lesser charge. However, it is not uncommon for the prosecutor to not have all the police reports at the time of the arraignment, so pleading guilty at the arraignment may not be wise.
If you hire an attorney, you are also able to waive your appearance at certain types of misdemeanor hearings. This is usually a good decision, as there is no point in you wasting your time going to Court if the prosecutor does not have all the police reports, audio tapes, and video tapes for your case. However, you are not permitted to waive your first appearance on certain, specific types of misdemeanors, such as domestic assault charges or violation of an order for protection or harassment restraining order. You are permitted to waive your appearance for a misdemeanor DWI.
After the arraignment, your next appearance will be a pre-trial hearing. At this hearing, you will once again have the opportunity to discuss your charges with the prosecutor. Ideally, the prosecutor will have all of the information on your case at this point.
You will also be able to decide whether you would like to contest some of the evidence gathered by the State. If the evidence was possibly gathered in violation of any of your constitutional rights, you should absolutely contest the evidence. Common reasons for contesting evidence include your vehicle being illegally stopped, the police not advising you of your rights to remain silent and contact an attorney before questioning you, and the police illegally searching your person or your vehicle. There may be other violations of your constitutional rights that occurred during your encounter with the police as well.
If you decide to contest the evidence, you will proceed to what is commonly referred to as a Rasmussen hearing. At this Rasmussen hearing, the State will call witnesses to testify about why the evidence was properly obtained. You will have the opportunity to question these witnesses by cross-examining them. You will also have the opportunity to testify on your own behalf and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. If you choose, you will also have the right to remain silent, meaning the State cannot force you to testify.
Following the conclusion of testimony, you will have the opportunity to argue as to why the collection of evidence violated your constitutional rights. You may make these arguments orally in Court or submit a written brief.
Following the pre-trial hearing or, if you choose to proceed to one, the Rasmussen hearing, the case will be set for trial, provided that the State still has enough evidence to charge you with a crime. You have the right to a jury trial or a Court trial. If you choose a jury trial, a jury of 6 people will decide whether the State can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you choose a Court trial, a Judge will decide whether the State can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.