The county attorney prosecutes all felony crimes (crimes which carry a maximum penalty of more than one year in prison) and all gross misdemeanor crimes (crimes which carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail) with the exception of gross misdemeanor driving while intoxicated offenses which occur within the county. The county attorney also prosecutes misdemeanor offenses occurring in the unincorporated areas of the county. Prosecution may involve reviewing the investigation of law enforcement officers, filing criminal complaints, presenting cases before a grand jury, representing the state in court hearings and trials, and making sentencing recommendations.
BASIC COURT PROCEDURES
When a complaint is issued by the County Attorney’s Office and signed by a judge, the defendant is scheduled for a first appearance in court. This first appearance is often referred to as a Rule 5 or Rule 8 Hearing ??A judge will then ensure that an attorney represents the defendant. The judge also decides whether the defendant should be held in jail or be required to post bail until the trial.
Under the laws of the State of Minnesota, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. A defendant’s release on his or her promise to appear at future court appearances is common. If the court determines that the defendant is unlikely to appear at future court dates or is a threat to public safety, bail or special conditions of release, such as no contact with victims or witnesses, may be imposed. Bail is a deposit of money held by the court that can be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear in court, breaks the law or violates the conditions of release.
An omnibus/pretrial hearing will be held within 28 days of the first appearance (unless the defendant waives the 28-day requirement or there is good cause to extend this time). At this hearing the judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to take the case to trial and the defendant is given the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the judge puts the case on the trial calendar.
The vast majority of criminal cases are settled without a trial. Most defendants plead guilty as charged or enter into a plea agreement. A plea agreement is an agreement between the prosecutor and a defense attorney to settle a criminal case by a plea of guilty or other appropriate disposition without trial. A plea agreement is a way of settling a criminal case when
ever it appears to be in the interest of the public, the victim, and the effective administration of criminal justice will be served without a trial.
Felony trials are before a jury of 12 people, or a judge alone if the defendant so requests. The trial begins with both sides having the opportunity to make an opening statement on the facts they expect to prove. The prosecutor then presents the State’s case by using witnesses and exhibits. The prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney then presents the defense case by using witnesses and exhibits. The defendant is not required to prove anything. The defendant can decide not to testify. Once the defense has completed its case, both sides are allowed to make closing arguments. The judge or jury will then review the evidence they have heard and make a decision of guilty or not guilty.
Before sentencing, a pre-sentence investigation is prepared by Probation which includes a social history of the defendant, criminal history of defendant, victim impact and other information and recommendations. The prosecutor and defense attorney may also make recommendations to the judge regarding sentencing. The sentencing judge must apply the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which give a presumptive sentence that a defendant should receive based upon the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal record. When a probationary sentence is called for by the Guidelines, a judge may impose county jail time, fines, treatment, restitution, community service, or other requirements as conditions of probation.