There are four levels of offenses in Minnesota:
Petty Misdemeanor (maximum penalty $300 fine)
Examples of petty misdemeanor cases are minor traffic offenses such as speeding, stop sign violations and parking tickets. You cannot go to jail for this type of offense.
Misdemeanor (maximum penalty 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine)
Examples of misdemeanor cases include first time DWI offenders (with test results under .20), small theft cases, assaults, disorderly conducts, more serious traffic offenses (reckless driving, careless driving, open bottle, no insurance, etc.). The probation does not exceed two years.
Gross Misdemeanor (maximum penalty one year in jail and $3,000 fine)
Examples of gross misdemeanor offenses include repeat DWI offenders, first-time DWI offenders with tests over .20, forgery, intent to escape tax, fifth degree criminal sexual conduct and mid- level theft cases. Probation does not exceed four years.
Felony (a sentence in excess of one year in jail and fines that vary based upon the case)
Felony cases are your most serious offenses and include offenses such as murder, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, four-time DWI offenders (within ten years), drug offenses and most sexual assault cases.
A “crime” in Minnesota is defined as an offense you can go to jail for. As such, a petty misdemeanor is not a “crime” because you cannot go to jail. The other three levels of offenses are crimes.
How many times will I go to court?
It depends upon the type of case you are charged with. Petty misdemeanors involve a 2-step process, an arraignment and a court trial. You do not have the right to a jury trial. Your attorney may be able to file a waiver for you at the arraignment so that you do not have to appear.
The other three levels of offenses (misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and felonies) basically involve a 3-step process:
1. Arraignment/First Appearance
This is typically the first time you go to court. For misdemeanor offenses, your attorney may be able to file a waiver so you do not have to appear unless you are charged with a domestic assault or other assault type charge. If, however, you are charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony, you will have to appear for this first stage. Conditions of release are reviewed, you are sworn under oath to give your name and address and future court dates are set.
2. Pretrial/Omnibus Hearing
This is the settlement phase of your case. You may go to court more than once for a hearing during this stage. Issues involving discovery (receiving police reports, witness lists, etc.), motions, scheduling issues and settlement discussions are held at this point. Many cases are settled at the pretrial/omnibus hearing stage.
Misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses allow a defendant the right to have a six-person jury or a court trial. Felony cases require a twelve-person jury or a court trial. The defendant is allowed to choose having a judge or a jury trial.
Are there other factors to consider in my case in addition to the potential of going to jail and paying fines?
There are many other factors that you should discuss with us that may be relevant to your case. For example, a conviction on a domestic assault case prohibits you from ever possessing a firearm – a major consequence for people that are hunters. The length and type of probation you might be on can have daily impact on your life. You may be required to go to alcohol treatment, anger management counseling, drug awareness classes, driver improvement clinics and other rehabilitative programs. We need to consider any driver’s license, motor vehicle insurance and professional license consequences. How your case is handled might also effect a separate additional civil lawsuit that any alleged victim could bring against you as well.
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