by Judge William Cashman
This column will discuss the procedures courts follow in criminal cases in Minnesota.
When a person is arrested without a warrant for either a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony, that person may not be detained more than 48 hours unless a criminal complaint has been signed by a judge, or a judicial determination has been made that justifies the continued detention. The determination by a judge that probable cause exists usually occurs by the signing of a complaint prepared by the city attorney or county attorney, or is based on a sworn affidavit prepared by a peace officer.
A person who is arrested without a warrant must also be brought before a judge within 36 hours. When calculating the 36-hour time period, the day of the arrest, Sundays and holidays are excluded.
At the first hearing, the defendant is advised of the nature of the charge and of his or her rights. These include the right: to an attorney, to remain silent, to demand a formal complaint, to a trial by jury and to be found guilty only if all jurors find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, to be presumed innocent, to remain silent at trial, to confront and cross-examine the state’s witnesses at trial, and to subpoena witnesses to testify at trial.
It is at this initial appearance where a defendant typically applies for a public defender if the defendant cannot afford to hire private counsel. Booking (the taking of a photograph and fingerprints) is usually ordered if that has not yet been completed. Bail or other conditions of release may also be set at this initial hearing. The purpose of bail and other release conditions are to ensure the defendant’s appearance at future hearings and to protect public safety.
The initial hearing can also be combined with the second hearing, known as a Rule 8 hearing. At this hearing, the State typically provides the defendant with reports setting forth the State’s evidence. The State also provides notice of any intent to present evidence of any other crimes or wrongful acts by the defendant that may be offered at trial, the identity of witnesses and all other notices and disclosures required by Rules 7 and 9 of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The next hearing to occur is an omnibus hearing. The defendant can demand this hearing take place within 42 days of the initial appearance or within 28 days of the combined first and second hearing. The defendant can serve motion papers requiring a hearing on issues such as whether probable cause exists to proceed to trial, discovery, evidence that will be allowed at trial, constitutional issues and other issues relating to a fair and expeditious trial. (See Minn. R. Crim. P. 11)
At any time the defendant may offer a guilty plea to the offense. When a defendant pleads guilty, the court makes certain the defendant is aware of the rights he or she is waiving. The defendant will typically sign a Rule 15 petition in which the defendant acknowledges all of the rights that are being waived by offering a guilty plea and in which specific terms of the plea agreement are set forth. After the court is satisfied the defendant is knowingly and voluntarily waiving these rights, the court will also advise the defendant if this guilty plea can be used to enhance any future crimes. DUIs and domestic assaults are examples of crimes where previous convictions are used to make later offenses more serious. The court also takes a factual basis where the defendant admits all of the elements of the crime to which the guilty plea is being entered.
If the crime is a felony, the matter will be set for sentencing at a future date. Prior to sentencing, the defendant will meet with Corrections so a pre-sentence investigation report can be prepared, advising the judge of past convictions, input from the victim and other information the court needs to determine the proper sanction.
If the defendant continues to plead not guilty, the matter is set for trial. The procedures at trial will be the subject of a future column.
William Cashman is a district court judge from St. Cloud and presides over cases in Stearns County.