Criminal Law Basics


  1. Crimes in Minnesota are divided into 3 categories:
    • Misdemeanors
    • Gross Misdemeanors; and
    • Felonies
  2. Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
    • Some offenses that would be charged as misdemeanors could be enhanced to Gross misdemeanors or even felonies (i.e., DWI’s, Domestic Assaults, or No proof of insurance).
  3. Gross Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 365 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000.
  4. Felonies are punishable by one year in prison to life and numerous statutory maximum fines.
  5. The criminal process usually begins with the police being notified of some suspicion of criminal activity and they would investigate. Possible outcomes of the police investigation include (but not limited to):
    • No arrests
    • A warning
    • An Arrest
    • Referral to the city or county attorney for recommendation of prosecution based on the evidence gathered by the police during their investigation.
  6. IMPORTANT:  People can NOT press charges against someone. The State is the one that decides to charge someone with a crime.  However, the State may need cooperative witnesses to support their charges.
  7. Court Process:
    1. The most important thing to remember in the criminal process is that YOU ARE PRESUMED INNOCENT AND THE STATE MUST PROVE YOUR GUILT BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT before you can be convicted.  Simply being charged with a crime does not mean you are guilty of that crime.
    2. A person may be summoned to court (by a summons in the mail to appear) or taken to court if in custody.
    3. That first court appearance is called an arraignment. The main purpose for that first court appearance is conditions of release (with or without bail) and/or the amount of bail and to select a future court appearance.
    4. Conditions of release.  The court can (and usually does) impose conditions to secure the person’s reappearance in court and protects the public safety.   Some things the court may consider in deciding what conditions are fair and sufficient include:
      • is how long the person has resided in this state;
      • whether they are employed (if so, how long);
      • do they have family in the community; community involvement;
      • do they have a history of bench warrants;
      • do they have a safe place to live or go;
      • will they comply with a no-contact order with an alleged victim,
      • and the nature of the nature of evidence.
  8. The second appearance is usually after the State has provided your or your attorney with the evidence they seek to use against you.  You and your attorney will have had an opportunity to review that evidence and decide what is favorable and what isn’t favorable and what challenges should be made to protect your rights.
  9. During the next couple of appearances, you and your attorney will discuss the best manner to proceed.  This may involve filing motions to have your case dismissed or evidence suppressed, setting your case for trial to completely contest the charges, or to negotiate the best possible  resolution for your individual circumstances (which  we have some control over).
  10. If the case can’t be dismissed or settled favorably, the next step is to go to trial.  YOU (as the Defendant) have the right to have a trial in front of a jury of your peers (6 jurors in Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor cases or 12 jurors in Felony cases).  You also have the right to waive a jury trial and have a court trial (where the judge becomes the jury).
    • You have a right to a speedy trial;
    • You have the right to contest evidence offered against you;
    • You have the right to present your own evidence;
    • You have the right to present witnesses (and subpoena witnesses- where the court orders them to appear and testify);
    • You have the right to cross examine any witness that testifies against you in open court;
    • You have the right to testify on your own behalf but can’t be forced to testify and neither the judge nor prosecutor can comment as to why you chose not to testify.
    • You have the right to a unanimous verdict (which means that all of the jurors have to agree that the State has satisfied their burden of proof before you can be convicted).
    • You have the right to appeal the verdict (which hopefully we wont need to appeal)!
  11. FYI:
    • Jail is incarceration in the local county jail or workhouse (where you may be able to go to work) for up to 1 year.
    • Prison is incarceration in excess of 1 year (usually for Felony offenses) at a State prison, not a local county jail.

How WLO can help

  • At WLO we have over 25 years of experience representing clients at all stages of the criminal process. This includes during investigation by the police (prior to the case being submitted for prosecution). This is called pre-charge. Our goal is to not prevent charges from being filed and to minimize any incriminating evidence from being gathered from you while the State considers whether charges are appropriate.
    • TiP: You should NEVER speak to the police alone. Always call us! The policy are usually speaking to you because they don’t have enough evidence to charge you and they are betting that you will say something that they can use to charge you (generally speaking).
  • At WLO, if you are charged or will be charged, we can often prevent a warrant from being issued and ask that you be allowed to appear by a summons. We know being arrested can be very traumatic experience and may often have some harsh consequences, like humiliation and possibly losing your job.
  • At WLO, we will sit and talk to you about your case at all stages. We will prepare you for each court appearance so you know what to expect (no one likes to be blindsided).
  • At WLO, we will provide you with resources in the event you need to post bail to secure your release from jail.
  • At WLO, we will obtain and review the evidence the State will be seeking to use against you. We will file necessary motions to exclude irrelevant or prejudicial evidence so the State can’t use it against you. This may result in your case being dismissed if there is no additional evidence that can be used against you.
  • At WLO, we will appear with you at all court appearances and vigorously represent you to fight for your rights.
  • We will come visit you (yes, even in jail) and discuss your case.
  • At WLO, we try to keep you out of prison and ensure that your good name is protected. Sometime, consequences are imposed for certain behavior. IF that is the case, we try to ensure that the consequence is appropriate and not excessive. We also try to minimize the financial burdens (i.e. fines and court courts) for you if the court imposes fines and court costs.
  • At WLO, as a former public defender in Hennepin County, Mr. Wilson’s ethical representation and experience will be a plus for your defense.

If you need an aggressive and experienced defense attorney on your side…..CALL WILSON LAW OFFICE today for your free initial consultation

612.377.0500