Navigating the Criminal Justice System

A criminal case is born one of two ways: someone makes a report to law enforcement, for example a 911 call is made, or a police officer observes a crime being committed.

Law enforcement will then conduct an investigation. The length of the investigation is usually dependent on the type of offense. For example, if an officer makes a traffic stop because a person is speeding the investigation is usually short and done right on the spot. However, if it is a more complex crime like an identity theft or issuance of a bad check law enforcement make take a few days, months, weeks or even years to conduct the investigation.

A mere report of a crime does not mean the case will even make it to the courtroom.

After law enforcement conducts their investigation they will refer the case including all of the evidence they have accumulated through their investigation to the prosecutor who has jurisdiction over the crime. Jurisdiction is defined geographically either by county line or city limit. The location of the crime determines who the prosecutor will be. The prosecutor with jurisdiction will then review all of the information provided by law enforcement and make a charging decision.

A decision to charge a person with a crime lies solely with the prosecutor.

We quite often hear a Victim state they want or do not want charges pressed. If the prosecutor does not believe a case can meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt they will not proceed with charges. In the alternative, if a prosecutor believes they can meet the burden of proof they will file charges.

If there is sufficient evidence to support criminal charges either a complaint or a citation will be filed with the court.

The court then sets a court appearance and the case begins its journey through the court system. If the prosecutor believes the person being charged presents a significant risk to public safety or is a flight risk they will ask the court to issue a warrant for the persons arrest. In some cases, the suspect may be arrested immediately following the report of a crime.

The Hearings

Once a case has officially entered the court system the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure dictate the type and timing of hearings.

The first hearing in a felony or gross misdemeanor offense is called a Rule 5 Hearing. This hearing occurs when a defendant makes his or her first appearance in court. The Court will go over the charges and the rights a defendant has. In a misdemeanor file this hearing is called an Arraignment.

The next hearing is called a Rule 8 Hearing. At a Rule 8 hearing the defendant will appear with an attorney and the Court will again go over the defendant’s rights. The prosecutor will also turn over what is called discovery. This is all of the evidence the prosecutor has that proves the defendant has committed the crime.

The next hearing is called an Omnibus Hearing. At an Omnibus Hearing the defendant has the right to argue or present evidence to the court that his or her rights have been violated or ask the court to address any of the evidence that has been collected by law enforcement. This hearing is optional and can be waived by the defendant if the defendant so choses.

After the Omnibus Hearing, if one is had, the court will hold a Plea Hearing. At this hearing the defendant will enter a plea to the charges. If a guilty plea is entered there will be no trial and the court will hold a sentencing hearing. If a not guilty plea is entered, the court will set the case for trial. It can be a jury trial or a court trial. The defendant has the right to choose what type of trial he or she would like. If they chose a court trial, the judge will determine if the defendant is guilty after receiving all of the evidence presented by the parties. If the defendant choses a jury trial then a group of either 12 jurors if it’s a felony offense or a group of six jurors if its gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor offense will determine if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant committed the crime(s) as charged.

And finally once there is either a guilty plea or a finding of guilt a Sentencing hearing will be held. Most commonly the prosecutor and the defense have reached an agreement to resolve the case and will ask the Judge to follow that agreement. The Judge has the ultimate authority of what a sentence in each case will be.

The road to justice is never straight, is always complex, but never devoid of a process and players who work diligently to ensure a fair and equal experience at each bend along the way.

Need Help?

Contact the Redwood County Crime Victims Services department today!

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