FAQ's - Criminal

How does a complaint become a criminal case?

Local law enforcement officers investigate a case and, if they feel there is sufficient evidence, a request is made of the County Attorney's Office to review for possible issue of a criminal complaint. If the prosecutor feels that a person should be charged with a crime, a complaint and a summons or arrest warrant are prepared. The complaint is the formal charge.

What is an omnibus hearing?

An omnibus hearing is a pretrial hearing on evidentiary issues in felony and gross misdemeanor cases. At a contested omnibus hearing, there is usually testimony from law enforcement officers about the facts being relied upon for probable cause, statements taken from the defendant, and evidence seized from the defendant. Based on this testimony, the district court judge is asked to make a decision whether there is sufficient probable cause for the defendant to stand trial, as well as whether statements and other evidence obtained from the defendant by law enforcement officers are admissible at trial.

What if the judge decides there is not sufficient evidence at the omnibus hearing?

The court will dismiss the case. This means that all legal action has come to an end and the defendant is released.

Do cases always go to trial if they are not dismissed?

Most cases are resolved without the necessity of a trial. Often there is no real question of guilt, and the only question to be resolved is the amount and degree of punishment, which are usually resolved by a plea agreement.

What is a plea agreement?

It is an agreement in which both the state and the defense agree on a suitable resolution. Upon agreement, the case is settled in the most efficient manner.

What happens in a trial?

The attorney from the Otter Tail County Attorney's Office presents the case for the state and has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did commit the alleged crime. The defendant may present evidence, although he has no obligation to do so. Furthermore, the defendant may not be compelled to testify. He/she must, however, be present throughout the proceeding. The trial may be either before a judge, or before a jury.

How and when is sentencing determined in felony cases?

The judge presiding over the cases sentences a defendant who has been found guilty or has pleaded guilty. Using state guidelines, the judge sentences the defendant in a manner that is appropriate to the crime and other circumstances related to the case. The defendant may be sentenced to jail, placed on probation, ordered to make restitution, ordered to pay court costs, or ordered to pay a fine. Before making the decision, the judge will usually review a pre-sentence report, which is an evaluation of the defendant prepared for the sentencing judge by the probation department. The victim will also have the chance to present either a written or oral victim impact statement at sentencing. 

What's the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

The statutes of Minnesota prescribe what acts are crimes, and also determine the severity level of all offenses. The levels of severity are, from lowest to highest:
  • Petty Misdemeanor (fine up to $300) - Most traffic offenses are petty misdemeanors. These are not  considered "crimes" in Minnesota because they do not entail a jail sentence.
  • Misdemeanor (fine up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail) 
  • Gross Misdemeanor (Fine of up to $3,000 and up to 1 year in jail)
  • Felony (Any offense for which the maximum penalty is more than one year in prison).

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