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Note: The Criminal Justice Statistics Center has been transfered to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). These webpages and datbases are maintained on the Dept. of Administration server for historic purposes, and because replacement services have not been implemented at the DPS. The databases on this site are not being updated and contact information for individuals and offices is likely inaccurate.

Minnesota's justice system steps

Criminal Justice System

Flowchart of criminal justice system

This is a general overview of the steps in Minnesota’s criminal justice system.

Age

In Minnesota, individuals can be arrested as adults if they were age 18 or older at the time the offense occurred. 

Arrest

The process begins with the commission of a crime. If a police officer witnesses a crime, a suspect may be arrested at the crime scene. Police also may respond to a call or discover a crime scene at which there is no suspect to immediately arrest; in these cases, an investigation takes place. Evidence collected by the police is taken to the prosecuting attorney, who may request that a warrant be issued for the arrest of the suspect.

Courts

Once the suspect is in custody, the police take the case to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney may formally charge the suspect by filing a complaint in criminal court. The suspect is then taken before a judge for arraignment – a formal hearing in which the suspect is informed of the charges being brought against him or her. At the arraignment, the judge determines if the suspect is eligible for a public defender – if the suspect cannot afford legal representation – and, if so, the chief public defender assigns a defense attorney. The suspect then enters a plea. If the suspect pleads guilty, there is no trial and the individual is held for sentencing.

A trial occurs if the suspect pleads not guilty. The suspect may choose to have either a judge or a jury decide the case. The suspect, who is now called the defendant, may be found guilty or acquitted of the crime. If the defendant is found guilty, the individual will be held for sentencing. In Minnesota, sentencing takes place at a separate hearing following the trial.

Corrections

At the sentencing hearing, the judge is solely responsible for determining the sentence. The sentence may include incarceration, probation or community service, or a combination of these.

Minnesota has developed sentencing guidelines that apply to offenders convicted of a felony – the most serious offense level for which a sentence of incarceration of more than one year may be imposed. The guidelines help judges determine appropriate sentencing for offenders. A Sentencing Guidelines Commission of the Minnesota Legislature develops the sentencing guidelines to ensure that offenders with similar crimes and criminal histories receive similar sentences. The more severe the crime and the longer the criminal history, the longer the sentence recommended by the guidelines. 

Minnesota law requires that individuals convicted of murder, assault or rape are incarcerated. For certain crimes, an individual may receive a presumptive stay of sentence – a sentence the offender does not need to fulfill as long as the individual completes a separate sentence that was also issued. Judges may depart from these guidelines, but they must explain the reason for doing so in writing.

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Juvenile Justice System

Flowchart of juvenile justice system

In Minnesota, the juvenile justice system differs from the adult criminal justice system in several ways, including some of the terminology used.

For example, an adult is arrested by police, charged with a crime, found guilty by a court, sentenced to an adult correctional facility and incarcerated for a specified period of time.

A juvenile is apprehended by police, petitioned for an offense, found to have committed an offense by a court, and receives a disposition to be placed in a juvenile correctional facility.

This is a general overview of the steps in Minnesota’s juvenile justice system.

Age

Any individual apprehended as a juvenile must have been under age 18 at the time the offense occurred. 

Apprehension

Most juveniles are apprehended by law enforcement. If the apprehended juvenile was between ages 10 and 17 at the time of the offense, the case is referred to the juvenile court and is considered a rehabilitative or justice-related case. If the apprehended juvenile was under age 10 at the time of the offense, the case is sent to juvenile court as a child in need of protection or services, which means it is considered a social services-related case, generally involving the juvenile`s mental and physical health. The juvenile court may be in the juvenile’s county of residence or the county where the offense occurred.

Courts

Law enforcement officials refer the case to a probation officer or to a county attorney, depending on the county’s intake procedure. After intake, if enough evidence exists to prosecute the case, the county attorney files a petition with the juvenile court asking it to make a finding of delinquency. This starts the formal court processing of the case. 

The court then sets a date for the arraignment, when the youth appears before the court for the first time to answer the charges. If the youth admits to the charges, the court can impose the disposition — the conclusion of a juvenile case by the court and the subsequent consequence — at that time or order a predisposition investigation and set a date for the disposition hearing. If the youth denies the charges, a trial date is set.

Most juvenile court trials are bench trials, where the judge is the sole fact-finder. After the case is heard and if the petition offense is proven, the judge finds the youth to be delinquent and sets a date for the disposition hearing. If the petition is not proven, the judge dismisses the case. At the disposition hearing the judge decides the type of rehabilitation the juvenile will receive.

Note: Some juveniles may instead experience one of the following:

Certified as adult

The court may order that a juvenile who was age 14 or older at the time of the offense and who is charged with a felony, be certified as adult and tried in criminal, or adult, court. Juveniles convicted of an offense in criminal court receive adult sentences. Juveniles charged with first degree murder, which includes premeditated murder, who were age 16 or 17 at the time of the offense, are required by Minnesota Statutes to be certified as adults and sent to criminal court, where they receive an adult sentence if they are found guilty of the offense.

Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile

While some juveniles may be sent immediately to criminal court, the prosecutor or the court may decide to try the case as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile prosecution. Generally, the juvenile would need to have been age 14 to 17 at the time of the offense and the charge must be a felony level offense. EJJ cases essentially mean that the juvenile is given a juvenile disposition and the adult sentence is stayed – meaning the juvenile is first given the chance to complete the terms of the juvenile disposition. If the juvenile fails to complete the juvenile disposition, the adult sentence, which may include incarceration in an adult correctional facility, takes effect.

Corrections

Individuals may be committed to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections. This means the juvenile is placed in a juvenile correctional facility or put on probation – a process of surveillance and supervision of offenders, which may follow incarceration. Probation may include house arrest, face-to-face contacts with probation officers and drug testing.

Other dispositions a juvenile may receive, but which may not include commitment to the commissioner of corrections, include therapy, foster home placement and drug treatment. There are roughly 100 dispositions a judge may use to fit the needs of a juvenile. Juveniles may receive more than one disposition in court.

Juveniles completing the terms of the disposition are usually age 21 or younger, but in some cases may be up to age 26. In most cases a record about an offense committed while a juvenile is not public information.

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