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Basic Court Procedures
The criminal justice system can be confusing and overwhelming to those who are not familiar with it. The following information could be helpful to someone who becomes a victim or witness of a crime in Ramsey County, or to those who are just curious about how it all works.
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office is responsible for prosecuting all felonies and some gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors that happen in Ramsey County. To serve you, here are answers to some common questions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Court
What happens next?
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. 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. Two weeks later an omnibus hearing is held. 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. A trial date is scheduled, usually within 60 days unless the defendant asks for or agrees to a trial at a later date.
Why are some defendants not in jail after they have been arrested and charged?
Under the laws of the United States and 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. You should notify the prosecutor of any concerns you have regarding a defendant's release or known violations of a defendant's release conditions.
Will this case go to trial?
In most cases, the defendant pleads guilty and a trial is not needed. A plea negotiation is an agreement to settle a criminal case by a plea of guilty, or other appropriate disposition, without a trial when it appears to be in the interest of the public, the victim, and the effective administration of justice.
What do you do pending trial?
As a victim or witness, your cooperation with the prosecutor and law enforcement is essential. You may be contacted for further information. You will be informed by the County Attorney's Office of any special things that you should do pending trial. If you change your address or phone number, please contact the County Attorney's Office as soon as possible.
In rare instances, the defendant or others attempt to influence the victim or witnesses through threats or coercion. Tampering with a witness is a punishable crime. Any concerns, threats or property damage you have should be reported immediately to your local law enforcement agency and our office.
Will you have to testify?
Testimony of victims is usually not required until the trial. Whether or not you will have to testify will be determined at the time of trial. If your testimony is needed, you will receive a subpoena telling you where and when to appear. Additional information will be sent to help you prepare for your court appearance.
What happens at trial?
The trial may be before a jury of 12 people, or only a judge depending on what the defendant 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.
When the prosecutor is finished, the defense attorney may give an opening statement if it has not already been given. The defense attorney then may present a case 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, with the prosecutor going first. The judge or jury will review the evidence they have heard and make a decision of guilty or not guilty. The prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
How does a judge decide a sentence?
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.
Before sentencing, a pre-sentence investigation is prepared which includes both a social and criminal history of the defendant, victim impact information, restitution information, and any recommendations to the court by the pre-sentence investigator regarding sentencing. The prosecutor and defense attorney may also make recommendations to the judge regarding sentencing.
How can victims be compensated for their loss?
The sentencing judge, as a condition of the defendant's probation or prison term, can order restitution (payment of damages). Your request for restitution must be in writing; it must list the items for which you are requesting restitution, the dollar amount requested, and the reasons for your request.
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office will assist you in preparing your restitution request. Your request must be signed and submitted to the probation officer or the Clerk of Court at the courthouse where the sentencing will be held. If you need additional information, please contact our Victim/Witness Services Division.
You or others may be eligible for compensation for some of your economic loss from the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparation Board. Economic loss may include medical related expenses, psychological related expenses, loss of income, childcare services, loss of support, and burial expenses. For further information contact:
Crime Victims Reparation Board
445 Cedar Street, Suite 2300
St. Paul, MN 55101-2156
24 hour Crime Victim Referral Hotline: (888) 622-8799
Where can I go for additional help and information?
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office Victim/Witness Services Division is available to answer your questions and address your concerns. Please contact the division at (651) 266-3099 if you need additional help or information.