A general understanding of Minnesota’s criminal statutes is helpful for every Mahnomen County resident and other Minnesotans. Although a criminal defense attorney will naturally have a much deeper and broader understanding of these statutes, having a baseline knowledge of criminal law can reduce some of the initial stress if you or a loved one is charged with a crime. 

Regardless of a client’s understanding of the law and the criminal justice system, the attorneys at Ringstrom Law provide exceptional criminal defense services. We will listen carefully to your story, concerns, and goals, and explain what is happening to you, why it is happening, and what can be done. Over the years, we have dealt with a multitude of criminal cases that have equipped us with invaluable experience. Our services are available in the city of Mahnomen, Waubun, Bejou, and throughout Mahnomen county for clients seeking legal counsel or representation in a criminal matter.

The Classification of Crimes in Minnesota Law

All states in the country have different criminal laws that are intended to maintain law and order. The two main divisions in criminal law are felonies and misdemeanors. The state of Minnesota further divides misdemeanors into three groups, based on severity. Unlike some other states, including North Dakota, Minnesota doesn’t divide felonies into different classes (A, B, C).

However, most Minnesota felony crimes are divided into different degrees. First and second-degree burglary, for example, are both felonies, but first-degree burglary has more severe penalties. Here we further discuss the different categories of Minnesota crimes.  

Felony Charges

Felony charges are reserved for serious criminal offenses causing greater harm or damage to victims or their property. The following types of crimes are usually, though not always, charged as felonies:

  • Criminal sexual conduct (rape, child sexual abuse, and similar crimes)

  • Selling controlled substances (i.e. drugs) 

  • Violent crimes (murder, manslaughter, serious assault, robbery) 

Repeating an offense can also elevate what would otherwise be a misdemeanor to the felony level. Considering how frequently increased penalties for repeated offenses are built into Minnesota’s statutes, state lawmakers clearly haven’t wished to leave the question of how to punish repeat offenders to the charging decisions of individual prosecutors or the sentencing decisions of individual judges. Thus, as one example, a fourth DWI charge within the DWI look-back period of 10 years will be a felony. Similarly, a third domestic assault charge within 10 years will be a felony. 

Felony sentences may include prison time, fines, restitution, registration as a predatory offender (for criminal sexual conduct and a few other crimes), court-ordered assessments and treatment, and the loss of certain civil rights (such as firearm possession and the right to vote). Felonies are also more likely to cause deportation for non-U.S. citizens. In addition to these government-imposed penalties, having a felony on one’s record can cause a host of difficulties related to employment and housing.

Though the stigma of having a felony conviction may be fading in some segments of some communities, it’s only getting easier for potential employers, landlords, and lenders to find someone’s criminal record online. Given the range of consequences that come with a felony conviction, hiring the right Mahnomen criminal defense attorney is crucial. It is desirable to avoid the conviction itself—whether through acquittal at trial, a dismissal of your case, or a negotiated plea deal—and not to just get the lowest possible sentence. 

Misdemeanor Charges

Alternatively, the prosecutor may decide to enter a misdemeanor charge in a case against you. Defendants typically face misdemeanor charges if their alleged violations caused less harm than felonies but still require legal action from the government. As mentioned above, Minnesota divides misdemeanors into three categories, which allows prosecutors to enter a charge proportional to the nature of the offense. 

Petty Misdemeanors

A petty misdemeanor is the least serious kind of charge, and actually is not even defined as a crime by Minnesota statute, but rather as an “offense.” Common petty misdemeanors include exceeding the speed limit, many other traffic violations, and possessing negligible amounts of marijuana. 

Petty misdemeanors involve relatively trivial violations, certainly when compared to felonies, and jail time cannot be imposed for them. Still, they can still result in fines of up to $300. Perhaps worse is that they are retrievable in a background check and can cause setbacks related to work or academic opportunities. A speeding citation can impede advance in a driving-related career, for example.

Because this type of misdemeanor is the lowest level possible, petties cannot be reduced in a plea negotiation except to be dismissed. If you are concerned about the collateral consequences of a petty misdemeanor, it is sometimes worth it to pay more than the fine to hire an attorney in aid of a dismissal. There are a few other creative resolutions

that can be employed too.

Regular Misdemeanors

Examples of this middle category of misdemeanors include first-offense DWIs, theft of goods or services valued at less than $500, and trespassing on another person’s property. The potential penalties do include time in a county jail (a maximum of 90 days) as well fines of up to $1,000.

On the other hand, the judge may decide to issue a probation sentence instead of jail. Under certain circumstances, jail can be imposed in addition to probation. Probation can be supervised or unsupervised; if supervision is involved, your probation officer will monitor your behavior based on criteria like

  • Consenting to random drug or alcohol tests (common if the offense involved drugs or alcohol) 

  • Avoiding breaking any other laws during probation

  • Attending meetings with your probation officer to discuss the progress of reform

  • Undertaking recommended probation activities like community service

Violating probation terms can prompt a judge to rescind the probation program and issue a jail sentence instead. Ringstrom Law is highly skilled at representing clients in probation violation proceedings, and anyone in Mahnomen County in need of this type of representation can reach out to us. But to avoid being accused of a violation in the first place, defendants should consult whoever their attorney is if they are concerned about remaining compliant with a particular requirement.

Gross Misdemeanors

This category (named after the “especially bad” meaning of the word “gross”) encompasses the most serious offenses under the general misdemeanor division, and by extension the harshest penalties. Some examples of gross misdemeanors in Minnesota are second and third-degree DWIs, theft of $500-$1,000, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and second-offense domestic assault.

Many gross misdemeanor cases involve aggravating factors that distinguish them from non-gross misdemeanors. For instance, if two DWIs are otherwise identical, but one involves a blood-alcohol content higher than the threshold of 0.15, while the other is between 0.08 and 0.16, the first will be a gross misdemeanor and the second will be only a misdemeanor.  

If a jury or judge finds you guilty of a gross misdemeanor, or if you plead guilty, you face up to one year in county jail and/or fines of up to $3,000.  

The Statute of Limitations in Minnesota Criminal Law

Soon after a defendant’s arrest, or in some cases leading up to the filing of a criminal complaint, a prosecutor will review law enforcement reports and the defendant’s criminal history and decide on the type of charges to make. This often happens fairly quickly, but if the process is not expeditious enough, the prosecutor risks exceeding the statute of limitations laid out in Minn. Stat. 628.26. For many types of crimes, a prosecutor cannot enter criminal charges once three years have passed from the alleged offense date. But some types of crimes have a longer statute of limitations, and some (such as murder and kidnapping) have no statute of limitations at all.   

Allowing complaints to proceed long after a crime supposedly occurred complicates the judicial process because retrieving evidence and witnesses is more difficult. Physical evidence usually deteriorates over time, and witness recollections can fade or morph. 

It is rare for charges to be filed too late, but if this does occur to you or a loved one, a criminal defense attorney can help you show the government that the charges are in violation of Minnesota’s statute of limitation guidelines. This statute exists to protect all citizens from unfair prosecution. 

Contact a Mahnomen Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Handling legal issues that arise after a criminal arrest can be daunting if you lack a lawyer’s guidance. You may be unaware of your rights and entitlements, leading to delays, inconveniences, and simply worse outcomes. And even if you are educated about constitutional rights and the law, the reality of the criminal system is that some prosecutors are very reluctant to communicate with people who are representing themselves, which can prolong a case and negatively affect it in other ways. 

Choosing to work with Ringstrom Law will give you high-quality legal representation and attentive client care. If you or a loved one requires our services in Mahnomen County, contact us today at 218-284-0484.