The majority of criminal conduct, from low-level fraud to murder, is prosecuted under state criminal laws instead of federal law. Whether you’re subject to criminal charges, have a family member who has been charged, or are just curious about how various criminal conduct is dealt with under the law, this article will help educate you about how Minnesota’s criminal code works. If you have been accused of violating a criminal statute in Audubon or elsewhere in Becker County, reach out to Ringstrom Law as soon as possible for help. We will walk you through everything you need to know about what’s involved in resolving your case.

Minnesota Criminal Laws

When you’re facing charges for violating a criminal statute in Becker County, or indeed anywhere, it’s critical to understand the kind of charge against you, the criminal process you’ll undergo, and the possible consequences you could face.  

Misdemeanor Charges

In Minnesota, a misdemeanor isn’t considered as severe as a felony offense. These crimes typically don’t involve severe injuries to another party or significant financial damage. For drug-related offenses, the crime usually doesn’t involve a substantial quantity of narcotics or the intention to sell them. Minnesota has three different categories of misdemeanors.

Petty Misdemeanor — A petty misdemeanor is the least severe type of misdemeanor offense. Conviction does not include jail time. Generally, the penalty is in the form of monetary fines. Petty misdemeanor crimes include petty theft (although in Minnesota, theft charges never begin as petty misdemeanors), possessing non-prescribed marijuana in a small amount, and speeding. Even though they’re not as severe as other offenses, petty misdemeanors may still show up on a background check, and for that reason it can be worthwhile to hire a criminal defense attorney to try to get a dismissal, an acquittal, or another non-conviction resolution.

Misdemeanors — Misdemeanor crimes include reckless driving, first-time DWI offenses, fifth-degree assault, trespassing, and theft.

Gross Misdemeanors — A gross misdemeanor is the most severe type of misdemeanor offense that can be brought in Audubon under Minnesota law. Criminal conduct under this category includes assaulting a peace officer, prostitution crimes (hiring or engaging in as a patron), criminal neglect of a vulnerable adult, third-degree DWI (a DWI with an aggravating factor such as a high alcohol test or having a child in the vehicle; Minn. Stat. 169A.26), and DWI test refusal. 

Felony Charges

A felony is considered a more severe crime. Although some felony sentences only include jail time, Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines have compulsory minimum prison times for a number of felonies. Felony crimes include murder, domestic assault using strangulation, theft, many drug crimes, criminal sex offenses, and terroristic threats.

Certain crimes are classified as felonies because of how serious they are (aggravated robbery and murder, for instance). But other offenses are only categorized as felonies if the accused has been found guilty in the past of similar criminal conduct. For example, if you’re arrested for DWI for the fourth time, you’ll typically face a felony charge if you’ve been found guilty of three other DWIs within the prior ten years. The categorization of other felonies is based on the facts surrounding the offense. For instance, stealing property worth at least $1,000 is a crime classified as a felony (Minn. Stat. 609.52). 

A felony conviction comes with several consequences, including the loss of various civil rights like the right to own or possess a firearm, to serve on a jury, or to vote. It can also lead to your deportation if you are a non-citizen. Also, if you have been convicted of a felony, you may not be considered for certain job types and can’t pursue some types of academic tracks. It may also be difficult if not impossible for you to join the armed forces. Often, people convicted of a felony are also sentenced to a lengthy probation period after serving any time in custody. If you violate any probation terms, you may be subject to additional penalties.  

Minnesota Criminal Procedure

Each criminal case is unique and may differ from the normal course of procedure, but in general, criminal procedure in Becker County involves eight steps.

Arrest — Minnesota law allows a police officer to arrest you only if he or she has probable cause to do so. When you’re arrested, the officer can ticket and release you immediately, or you may be taken into custody. In the latter case, you’ll be processed then booked into jail.

Filing a Complaint — At this stage the prosecutor prepares a summons and complaint. He or she will then mail the information to you (or a law enforcement officer may hand it to you in person), informing you of the kind of charges you are facing. The summons and complaint document includes a statement of probable cause (essentially an account of the crimes you’ve allegedly committed) and outlines whether the offense is a felony, gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or petty misdemeanor. A complaint won’t actually function as a summons to court if you are being held in custody pending your first court appearance. 

Bail Hearing — If you weren’t released immediately, the court will hold a bail hearing. Minnesota law provides that an accused be granted this hearing within thirty-six hours of arrest. But if you were arrested on a weekend, the countdown commences on Monday. This is because the day of arrest as well as Sundays and legal holidays do not count toward the thirty-six hours. The bail hearing process involves being presented before a judge, who will establish whether you can be set free and what conditions you must adhere to if you’re released. The judge decides whether you should be released on bail. When doing this, he or she looks at whether you’re a threat to the public or a flight risk. A judge may either release you on your own recognizance or set a bail amount. It’s ideal to hire a defense attorney before this stage so that your attorney can argue on your behalf. At Ringstrom Law, we know the types of arguments that are most likely to get you released pre-trial at the minimum possible expense and are well-experienced in making those arguments.

Arraignment — Arraignment refers to your first appearance in court, when the judge reviews the complaint against you. The judge will explain your rights as a defendant, such as the right to an attorney and to a trial by jury. In some cases, bail matters are determined during the arraignment. Usually, the judge sets the next court date at this hearing. Even if you plead guilty immediately, it may take at least one other hearing to wrap up your case.  

Discovery — This next step is critical for your rights. It’s the discovery stage, where your attorney officially requests information related to your case. The prosecutor has to provide your lawyer with any information that can be used against you, like recorded statements, squad car and body cam footage, transcripts, police reports, and forensic reports. This is the point where you and your defense team finally become more familiar with the kind and weight of proof that that government has assembled against you. The criminal defense attorneys at Ringstrom Law are known in Audubon and throughout Becker County as dogged pursuers of all discovery that may be helpful in fighting a case. 

Settlements & Plea Bargains — This stage provides the opportunity to resolve your case without undergoing a trial. Various hearings may be held based on the specifics of your case. For instance, at the misdemeanor level there will be a pre-trial hearing, which is similar to the omnibus hearing for gross misdemeanor and felony cases. Depending on what the discovery reveals about your case, and what independent defense investigation turns up, your attorney may be able to get your case dismissed. It may be determined that evidence against you was illegally or improperly obtained, or that no probable cause ever existed for what you were charged with. For example, someone might be charged with third-degree assault, but there’s only evidence of a black eye, which on its own is not a basis for a third-degree assault charge. In such a case, a probable cause challenge may prevail.

During this phase, your attorney may try negotiating a plea deal on your behalf. At Ringstrom Law, we sometimes find plea negotiations to be an appropriate avenue for our clients, but we are more than willing to take cases to trial when the circumstances warrant it and you have made a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent decision to go to trial. We will make sure you understand the pros and cons of proceeding to trial or accepting a plea deal.  

Trial — If a case isn’t resolved by successful plea negotiation or by dismissal, it will go to trial. In gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases, the law dictates a jury trial conducted by six jurors. Felony trials are presided over by a twelve-person jury. You may waive your right to the jury trial in order to have the judge rule on your case, but you must consciously waive this right on the record. 

A trial begins with voir dire, or jury selection. In an important sense, jury selection can be the most important part of the trial. Opening statements follow, starting with the prosecutor then your lawyer. When your attorney has given their opening remarks, the prosecutor goes ahead to present proof and witnesses. Your attorney then cross-examines the prosecution’s witnesses, and can then put defense witnesses on the stand. You and your attorney will determine whether you should testify in your own defense, though the decision is ultimately yours to make. Both sides then give their closing arguments, after which the jury deliberates before entering a verdict on the case.

Sentencing — If you plead guilty, or if the jury or judge finds you guilty at trial, sentencing will follow. There’s a distinct hearing to establish any jail or prison term or other punishments you will face. For more serious offenses, there will be a presentence investigation conducted by the probation office. Criminal sentences may include incarceration, community service, fines, home monitoring, restitution, or probation. Other programming-type conditions can be imposed, such as ordering you to enroll in drug or alcohol dependency treatment, participate in counseling, enroll in anger management programs, be drug-tested randomly, or follow any other rules and conditions the judge has imposed.

The Statute of Limitations in Criminal Law

The statute of limitations refers to the time frame the prosecution has to file charges after you allegedly commit a crime. It exists to provide a deadline within which the prosecution may take legal action. If action isn’t taken according to the statute of limitations for a particular offense, the prosecutor won’t be allowed to file charges, even if accusations later arise. 

The statute of limitations exists in criminal misconduct cases to provide an effective criminal justice system where witnesses’ memories are fresh enough to be reliable. It also ensures that the available proof is timely. Additionally, the statute of limitations allows for greater certainty around criminal prosecution so that potential defendants don’t wait indefinitely for the government to establish whether or not to try the case.

The applicable timeframe to file charges in Audubon and throughout Minnesota differs based on the type of crime. Generally, misdemeanors have a time limit of three years, while that of felonies may range from three to nine years based on the offense. A few specific examples are medical assistance fraud (six years) and first, second, or third degree arson (five years). There are some offenses with no deadline to bring charges. They include murder and human trafficking crimes that involve victims younger than 18. 

In certain situations, the statute of limitations can be paused. This is referred to as the tolling of the statute of limitations. Tolling allows the prosecutor more time to file charges. Under the state’s criminal code, the time frame can be paused when the alleged suspect isn’t present in Minnesota.

Contact an Audubon Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Because of how strict Minnesota's criminal justice system is and the possible penalties you can face, you want to hire a criminal defense attorney when arrested. Your lawyer can advise you about your rights, help you understand the charges you’re facing, describe the weaknesses and strengths of the state’s case, negotiate a favorable plea bargain, and represent you at trial. 

Ringstrom Law is a criminal defense law firm serving clients facing criminal charges in Audubon, broader Becker County, and the surrounding area. We handle all types of criminal cases, including murders, DWIs, drug crimes, sex offenses, and even traffic violations. If you’re charged with violating any Minnesota criminal law, whether in Audubon or elsewhere in Becker County, contact us at 218-284-0484 right away for help.