It was your son's 18th birthday and you had made his favorite dinner. Although he really did seem to appreciate it, his mind was clearly on the concert he was about to see with his buddies at First Avenue. You understood and told him to have a great time. You had many fantastic nights there back in the day. Later, as you were reflecting on old times with your wife and trying to come to terms with the fact that you now had an adult child, you got the call that every parent dreads. Your son was in jail and needed your help. What happens now? What do you do?
Here is some basic information for how to deal with a criminal case in Minneapolis. For a general overview of criminal law, be sure to check out FindLaw's Criminal Law section. This article has information specific to Hennepin County.
The first folks you will generally encounter in a criminal case in Minneapolis are officers from the Minneapolis Police Department. Your case might be prosecuted by the City Attorney's Criminal Division or the Hennepin County Attorney and could possibly be defended by the Hennepin Public Defender. You may spend some initial time in the Hennepin County Jail, and perhaps later at the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility, or even in a Minnesota Department of Corrections facility.
Your case will likely be heard in the 4th District Criminal Division, either at the 300 South 6th Street or the 401 4th Avenue South location.
Classification of Crimes
Minneapolis and the rest of Minnesota classify violations into the following categories:
"Petty misdemeanors" are minor offenses prohibited by statute, such as traffic violations. These are not considered crimes and a maximum penalty of a $300 fine may be imposed.
"Misdemeanors" are crimes with a maximum penalty of 90 days imprisonment, $1,000 fine or both. Examples include assault and DUI.
"Gross misdemeanors" are crimes that carry a maximum penalty of fines up to $3,000 and 1 year in jail. An example is property theft between $500 and $1,000.
"Felonies" are crimes for which a sentence of more than one year can be imposed. Examples include burglary and homicide.
How a crime is classified can have implications aside from penalties, and in Minneapolis, it also impacts who prosecutes the case. For misdemeanors, the Minneapolis City Attorney will pursue the case. For felonies, it is the Hennepin County Attorney you will be dealing with.
Booking and Bail
After being arrested, your primary concern is typically getting released. This can usually only happen after booking and bail. Booking is the process by which information about you and the charges against you are entered into the system, and bail is a promise you make (either with money or a signed promise) that you will return to court.
If a loved one is being held at the Hennepin County Jail, bail can be paid (cash only) at the In-Custody Records window at 401 South Fourth Avenue, 24 hours per day, or you may call 612-348-5112 to obtain further information. If you call, be sure to have the inmate's full name and date of birth available.
Stages of the Case
Your first court appearance will generally be the arraignment. At this appearance, the official charges against you are read and you are informed of your right to counsel. You may enter your plea at this time and you will be advised of future court dates. If you plead guilty at this stage, you will proceed to sentencing.
As the Hennepin County Attorney outlines in this diagram and overview, your next court appearance will typically be a pre-trial conference, where the parties determine whether the case can be resolved without trial or, if not, what issues need to be addressed prior to trial (e.g. whether certain evidence should be excluded, who should testify, etc.). The case may resolve by plea bargain or may proceed to trial.
Under Minnesota law, a defendant has the right to a jury trial for any offense punishable by incarceration and all such trials must be in the district court. For misdemeanors that are not punishable by incarceration, trials are before the judge only.
A criminal case can be an emotional and overwhelming experience. A skilled defense attorney may be able to help you navigate through the legal terminology, rules and regulations, and either negotiate a plea bargain or fully defend your case at trial. Check out the FindLaw section on Using a Criminal Lawyer for additional information.