Criminal Prosecution Process

 1. Charging
 2. First Appearance
 3. Omnibus Hearing
 4. Guilty Pleas & Plea Negotiations
 5.Pre-Trial Hearing
 6. Trial
  Jury Selection
  State’s Case
  Defendant’s Case
 • Closing Arguments
  Jury Instructions
  Jury Deliberations
  Jury Verdict
 7.Criminal Cases
 8.Civil Cases

In a criminal case, unlike a civil case, the victim doesn’t bring charges against the accused person, the defendant. A crime is considered a wrong against the State, and it is the people of the State who file charges against the defendant. The County Attorney represents the people. Through the Attorney’s staff, they file criminal charges and prosecute criminals on the people’s behalf.

The prosecution of a crime by the County Attorney is a step-by-step process. This process can be long, complicated, and confusing, but if you know what the process is, you’ll be able to understand it better.

The Process Step by Step

A crime is committed in Minnesota. The offense is reported to the police and a detective from the police department where the offense occurred or from the Sheriff’s Office or State Patrol conducts an investigation. The officer interviews victims and witnesses, gathers physical evidence, and obtains information about the crime. After conducting the investigation, the officer decides if there is enough evidence to prove a certain person committed a crime.


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The detective takes all the information gathered during the investigation, presents it to the County Attorney, Assistant County Attorney, or City Attorney, and requests that a criminal complaint be filed. The Attorney who receives the case reviews the information, decides what charges the evidence will support and files charges. There are occasions when the attorney will determine the information received does not establish that a crime has been committed, or crucial evidence obtained could not be used at trial. In those instances, the attorney may decline to file charges or request further investigation from the officer.

Charges are filed against the individual who committed the crime by the issuance of a written complaint. The complaint contains a brief statement of facts and sets forth the crimes the defendant has committed based on those facts. The complaint may charge the defendant with a single crime or a number of different crimes, all of which arise out of the facts recited in the complaint. The defendant is given a copy of the complaint, and a court appearance is scheduled.


First Appearance, Arraignment/Rule 5

The defendant first appears in Court before a Judge at a hearing called the “First Appearance.” Under the law. a person in custody must be taken before a Judge for a first appearance within three days of an arrest. The purpose of the first appearance is to formally notify the defendant of the charges filed. Make sure he/she has a lawyer and set bail. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney. a public defender is appointed by the Court to represent the defendant.

The amount of bail is set after an interview and quick investigation of the defendant to determine the likelihood of the person coming back to Court for further hearings. The seriousness of the crime, and the possible danger to others from the release of the defendant. Defendants may be released by the Court on their “own recognizance” without having to post bail. Other defendants may have to post an amount of money ranging up to several hundred thousand dollars. Defendants posting bail or those released on their own recognizance may be required by the Judge to abide by other conditions of release.

Omnibus Hearingreturn to top

At or soon after the conclusion of the first appearance, the defendant is given a new date to appear in Court which is called the “Omnibus Hearing. This hearing is the defendant’s opportunity to request that the complaint against the defendant be dismissed and/or the evidence against the defendant not be used at trial.

The defendant may require the Judge to determine, on the basis of the facts presented in the complaint and in the police reports, whether there is enough evidence to show that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it. The defendant may also require the Judge to determine whether the State violated any of the defendant’s Constitutional Rights during the investigation or prosecution of the defendant’s case. The defendant may allege, for example, that the arrest was conducted improperly, that he or she was forced to make a confession, or that the police seized evidence without having the right to do so. At or soon after the Omnibus Hearing, the Judge rules on these issues.

Also or soon after the Omnibus Hearing, the Judge reads to the defendant the exact charges filed and the defendant enters a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” to those charges.

Guilty Pleas, Settlement Conference and Plea Negotiations return to top

At any stage of the criminal proceedings following the first appearance, the defendant may plead guilty. Most, but not all, pleas of guilty are the results of a plea agreement. Plea agreements are essentially contracts between the State and the defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty under certain terms and conditions. Since both the State and the defendant risk losing everything should the case go to trial, plea agreements are a means to arrive at a reasonable and certain disposition without the necessity of a trial.

The County Attorney’s Office makes a plea agreement offer to the defendant only after thoroughly reviewing all aspects of a case. In each instance, the victim(s) is made aware of the offer and is afforded the opportunity to comment on the offer. All plea agreements are subject to the Judge’s approval and the defendant must formally waive his right to a trial and accept the guilt before the Court will accept the defendant’s plea of guilty.Victims have the right by law to be notified of all plea agreements

Pre-trial Hearing
At the Pretrial Hearing, the case is formally set for trial on a specific date if the defendant does not elect to enter into a plea agreement and plead guilty. A list of witnesses to be called at trial is given to the Court by both parties and often times the parties use the hearing to narrow the issues in dispute in order to save time at trial.
Trialreturn to top
The trial is the ultimate determination of the defendant’s guilt. At the trial, each party is put to the test of presenting its case before a Judge or a jury. Criminal proceedings follow a certain procedure during the course of a trial. Some of the distinct events, which occur at trial, are as follows:
-Jury Selectionreturn to top
If a jury is to be used, the trial must begin by first selecting the jury. A case prosecuted by the County Attorney’s Office will often involve a jury of twelve persons. During jury selection, a group of persons called for jury duty are brought to the courtroom where they are each asked questions by the Judge and the attorneys for each side. The purpose of the questioning is to make certain that the juror can be fair and impartial in the case. A juror, who cannot be fair, for whatever reason, will be removed from the jury.
-States Case-return to top
After the opening statement the prosecutor presents witnesses and testimony. The State’s witnesses are questioned by the prosecutor, and the defense attorney has the opportunity to cross-examine or question the State’s witnesses. The State’s case will generally consist of the testimony of witnesses and the introduction of physical evidence.
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After presentation of evidence for the State has been completed, the defense attorney may present witnesses and physical evidence for the defense’s case. However, since the burden to prove the defendant committed the alleged offense “beyond a reasonable doubt” is on the State, and the defendant is presumed to be innocent, the defense may elect not to present any evidence.

If defense witnesses do testify, the prosecutor is given the opportunity to question and cross-examine those witnesses. During the testimony of the witnesses or the introduction of physical evidence, either attorney may make an objection to the questions that are asked or the offering of physical evidence. The Judge will then decide whether the questions that are asked or the offering of physical evidence is proper under the rules of law.

-Closing Arguments-return to top
At the conclusion of the defense’s case, closing arguments will be presented. In the closing, each attorney attempts to persuade the Judge or jury that their side should prevail. Closing arguments are not evidence, but are summaries by both sides of the evidence presented during the trial from their respective viewpoints.
-Jury Instructions-return to top
Following the closing arguments by both parties, the Judge will instruct the jury on the issues to be decided and the rules of law that apply to the case.
-Jury Deliberations-return to top
Jury deliberations are concluded when a unanimous verdict has been reached. The jury returns to the courtroom and the verdict is announced. If a jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict after sufficient time to deliberate, it is considered a hung jury. A mistrial can be declared and a new trial ordered.
-Jury Verdict-return to top
After being instructed by the Judge, the jury retires to another room to deliberate and to return with a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
Sentencingreturn to top

If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty following a trial, the Judge will order a pre-sentence investigation prior to sentencing the defendant. The pre-sentence investigation will include the defendant’s criminal history, personal background, marital and economic status, employment situation and education history.

The pre-sentence investigation may also determine whether the defendant has a chemical dependency problem or psychiatric difficulties. The individual conducting the pre-sentence investigation will contact the victim of the crime and find out how they have been impacted by the defendant’s actions. The pre-sentence investigation enables the Judge to find out more about the defendant so that he or she is better able to impose the proper sentence.

Prior to the sentencing, the victim(s) of the crime will be sent a form whereby the victim may request that the Court order the defendant to pay for any monetary loss caused by the
defendant’s crime. The paying of victims for their losses, known as “restitution,” may be made a condition of the defendant’s sentence.

After the pre-sentence investigation has been completed, the defendant comes before the Judge for sentencing. The Judge will listen to arguments by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney as to the proper sentence for the defendant, and the defendant is afforded the opportunity to speak on his or her own behalf. The victim may also attend the sentencing, and will be given the opportunity to relate to the Judge how the crime has affected them and what sentence they feel would be appropriate.

If the victim chooses not to attend the sentencing, their input may be sent to the Judge in the form of a letter, or the prosecutor may read aloud a statement written by the victim. No matter what the Judge might personally want to impose, he or she can only impose a sentence that falls within the boundaries of State law. Keeping those boundaries in mind, and weighing all the facts of the case, the Judge then sentences the defendant. Once the defendant is sentenced, the prosecution process is finished. If a victim of the crime did not attend the sentencing, the sentence imposed can be learned by contacting the County Attorney’s Office.

Criminal Casesreturn to top
Criminal cases are those in which the defendant, if convicted, risks imprisonment. Defendants may also face other criminal sanctions including fines, community service and other restrictions on personal liberty. In a criminal case the prosecutor determines which charges, if any, to pursue. The prosecutor does not represent the victim but rather the State and society. Criminal cases in traffic crashes may involve charges for driving while impaired or intoxicated, hit and run, criminal vehicular homicide or injury, careless or reckless driving, driving without a license or without insurance, test refusal, serving alcohol to a minor, or serving alcohol to an obviously impaired individual.
Civil Casesreturn to top

Civil cases are those in which the defendant does not risk imprisonment, but does face financial or other penalties if found legally responsible. Civil cases in traffic crashes may include claims against the driver. A dram shop claim against a liquor establishment, and/or other third parties who supplied alcohol or other drugs to the driver or monetary damages for loss of life, personal injury, property damage and other expenses directly attributable to the crash.

In a civil dram shop claim (an illegal liquor sale to the offender) you must provide notice of your claim (suit) to the bar within 120 days after you retain an attorney for the claim. You have two years from the date of the illegal sale to file the claim. In a civil suit claiming negligence, you have six years from the date of the crash to file the claim.

Many counties provide information and assistance to victims through victim/witness programs, many of which are based out of the local county attorney’s office or other community offices. Inquire as to whether your county may offer such assistance. Your Minnesotans for Safe Driving advocates work closely with the advocates in the court system.

Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines

The purpose of the Sentencing Guidelines is to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards that reduce sentencing disparity and ensure that the sanctions imposed for felony convictions are proportional to the severity of the conviction offense and the offender’s criminal history. Equity in sentencing requires that: (a) convicted felons with similar relevant sentencing criteria should receive similar sanctions; and (b) convicted felons with relevant sentencing criteria substantially different from a typical case should receive different sanctions.

The 2021 Sentencing Guidelines are effective September 15, and determine the presumptive sentence for felony offenses committed on or after the effective date. The Guidelines remain in effect until the next publication. Modifications are adopted after public hearing and detail the approved modifications to the Sentencing Guidelines, including rankings for new and amended felony offenses passed by the Legislature and changes to non-legislative policies.

To read the commentary about Minnesota’s Sentencing Guidelines and the penalty that is recommended for each felony conviction go to the follow website.

Sentencing Guidelines Grids. The “Sentencing Guidelines Grids” (or “Grids”) display presumptive sentences for felony offenses according to the severity level of the offense (vertical axis) and offender’s criminal history score (horizontal axis).
The Sentencing Guidelines Grid is on page 73 of the Guidelines

Helpful website for Victims of Crime including traffic crashes

Link to Minnesota Courts
Ascess case records
Find court records
Court forms
Self Help Center

Link to Statutes (laws) involving traffic regulations & careless and reckless driving

Link to Criminal Vehicular Homicide and Operations  statues (laws)

Link to Alcohol and Drug driving statues (laws)

Link to Minnesota County Attorneys Association website

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