All states comply with Constitutionally-mandated criminal procedures, but each state retains its own particular way of processing criminal defendants. The following is an introduction to the criminal process in Minnesota.
Your Rights Upon Arrest
Most arrests are made by law enforcement officials who have probable cause that someone committed a crime, sometimes by directly observing the crime taking place. Other arrests are made pursuant to a court-issued arrest warrant.
Your Miranda rights after an arrest include the right to remain silent; that anything you say can and will be used against you; that you have the right to have an attorney present during questioning; and if you cannot afford a lawyer, that the court will appoint one for you. Never give a statement without your lawyer present.
At a detention facility, your personal effects are taken and stored. You are photographed and fingerprinted and asked for your identity. You can make a phone call when a phone is available.
Bail and Release Procedures
You must appear before a judge or judicial officer within 36 hours after the arrest or the next business day if a weekend. You may be released on your own recognizance (ROR) or the judge may determine that you are a danger to the public safety or a flight risk based on the severity of the charge, prior criminal history and other factors.
If bail is set, you can pay a cash bail or the entire amount of the bail or get a bail agent and pay a percentage (10 percent) of the total amount.
Arraignment and Plea Process
If in custody, the arraignment will be within 36 hours following arrest; otherwise, you will be given a date. At the arraignment, also called the initial appearance, the judge will review the charges against you, ask if you understand them, and see if you have an attorney or qualify for a court-appointed one if your offense could involve jail time. Bail can be reset or you could be released ROR at this time.
You are usually asked to enter one of the following pleas:
- Guilty — You admit to the offense and take your chances with sentencing.
- Not guilty — You deny all charges. This gives you time to plea bargain if possible or prepare a defense.
- Nolo contendre — You will not contest the charges. This is treated as a guilty plea, but it may not be used as evidence in a civil suit against you.
Plea Bargaining Process
Most courts encourage plea bargaining, which is a negotiated plea of guilty to a lesser charge or a reduced sentence to avoid a trial and possibly a harsher penalty. The great majority of cases are settled in this manner.
After the arraignment, a defendant can request a Rasmussen hearing, or suppression hearing, to determine if the charges should be dismissed due to a rights violation such as an illegal arrest or search. Defendants can also request an Omnibus hearing, which is a probable cause determination.
A grand jury is only used for first degree murder and political cases.
Trials and Sentencing Process
Felony trials use 12 jurors, while cases involving jail time of less than one year use only six jurors. A defendant can waive a jury trial.
Trials consist of a presentation of evidence by the prosecution, which has the burden of proving a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No defendant can be compelled to testify or offer any evidence. The jury then considers the evidence and returns a verdict, which must be unanimous to convict.
If guilty, a judge usually orders a pre-sentence investigation conducted by a probation officer or substance abuse counselor if drugs are involved. Felonies are determined according to established state guidelines. A sentence could be probation, community service, stay of sentence, incarceration, a fine or combination thereof.
Hire a Criminal Attorney
No state has the exact same criminal procedures, and you should not rely on another state’s criminal process. If charged with a crime, you should consult with a Minnesota criminal defense attorney.