A jury trial is the last stage to determine guilt or innocence in a criminal case at the district court level. If all other avenues have been exhausted, such as plea bargaining, pre-trial contested motions, possible pleas to the court, and the defense and prosecution cannot come to an agreement, then you have the right to a trial by jury.
Any charge punishable by possible imprisonment gives you a right to jury trial. Therefore, in misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony level offenses, you can decide to have a trial by jury. In petty misdemeanor cases, which do not have possible jail time, you only have the right to a Court Trial. That trial is a trial in front of a judge only who will determine your guilt or innocence.
In misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases, a jury of six will hear the trial. In felony matters, a jury of twelve will decide the outcome. At the outset of the trial is voir dire, or jury selection. This is a process where the judge, defense attorney, and prosecutor will ask questions of the jury to determine whether any possible jurors have possible biases that would prevent them from trying a case fairly. At the conclusion of voir dire, the defense attorney and the prosecutor will each strike possible jurors from the panel. The defense attorney gets five strikes and the prosecutor gets three. The parties may also challenge a possible juror for cause to get them removed from the panel, which will not count against their strikes.
Once the jury is selected and sworn in to hear the case, the prosecutor will likely make an opening statement followed by the defense. Then, the prosecutor will present its case to the jury with witnesses and evidence to try and persuade the jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney may also cross examine each prosecution witness. The rules of evidence will also apply during the trial.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the defense attorney may call witnesses and present evidence in support of their arguments. Importantly, they do not have to call any witnesses at all. The defendant has the right to remain silent during the entire trial and is not forced to testify on their behalf.
At the conclusion of the defense’s case, the process generally proceeds to closing arguments. This is the time for each side to argue to the jury why they believe you should rule in their favor. The prosecutor will start with its closing argument followed by the defense. At the conclusion of the defense’s closing argument, the prosecutor may make a rebuttal closing argument. At that time, the judge will give the jury any final instructions before they are sent off to deliberate the outcome of the case.
Most importantly, the jury must unanimously find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted of the crime(s) charged. If the jury unanimously determines the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant is found not guilty. If they jury cannot agree unanimously on either outcome, then the jury is hung, and the judge may determine a mistrial or encourage the jurors to keep deliberating. If a mistrial ultimately is the end result, then the prosecution may decide to re-try the case.
A Court Trial, or what is sometimes referred to as a Bench Trial, is a trial in front of a judge. Instead of having a trial by jury, you may choose to have your case decided by a judicial officer. In petty misdemeanor cases and juvenile court matters, you do not have a right to a jury trial and may only have a Court Trial. Importantly, if the juvenile case was designated EJJ (extended juvenile jurisdiction) or certified to adult court, then you can choose a trial by jury. In misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony cases in adult court, you have the constitutional right to a jury trial. But, in some circumstances, you may end up deciding to have a Court Trial instead.
In general, a trial is the end of your case at the district court level. The conclusion of the trial will determine your fate in the case – guilty or not guilty. When you choose to have a Court Trial instead of a trial by jury, then you are saying you want the judge assigned to your case to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty of the charged offense(s). The same standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – applies to the prosecution. All other trial rights apply as well, such as the right to remain silent, the right to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses, and the right to call witnesses in your defense. The parties may make opening statements, call witnesses, and make closing arguments. The rules of evidence also apply in the same manner as a jury trial. At the conclusion of some Court Trials, the judge may allow written closing arguments and issue a written decision at a later date.
A common reason people choose to have a Court Trial is because they do not believe they will get a fair jury to hear their case. They may also believe that they have a unique legal issue that is better analyzed by a judge. Furthermore, they may think that they have a very favorable judge in general. Importantly, the defendant holds the power to decide whether to have a Bench Trial or a trial by jury. It is the defendant’s right alone to make that decision. But it is crucial to have many discussions with your lawyer about what type of trial is right for your case. Making that decision is one of the most important choices you will may make in your case. A common reason to decline a Court Trial is that you would rather have more than one person decide your fate of guilty or not guilty. At a Court Trial, the prosecution only needs to persuade one person – the judge. During a jury trial, they have to prove their case to a jury of six or twelve people and they have to unanimously agree that you are guilty or not guilty.
A Settlement Conference is an in-court hearing used to see if the prosecution and defense can reach a settlement prior to a trial taking place. By this point, the court has already conducted your first appearance, pre-trial hearing, and possibly contested hearings challenging the admissibility of evidence in your case. The Settlement Conference is often one of the last stages in your case. It generally occurs within a week of a scheduled trial date; and in some situations, a few weeks in advance of trial. The judge will often want to know whether settlement negotiations have been taking place, what those are, and if the case is likely to settle.
As the defendant in the case, you have the right to know what settlement offers are being made in your case. Your MN criminal attorney should be talking to you about what those are and what options you have, because you alone have the power to resolve your case. It is your decision to make whether to take a plea offer from the prosecution. Your lawyer is there to give you advice and assist you in the decision-making process.
By the time you get to your Settlement Conference there has probably already been a plea offer made in your case. Or, at a minimum, an expectation of what the prosecutor is requesting for an outcome. However, plea offers can change at the Settlement Conference and thereafter. Thus, it is important for you to know what those offers are and whether you desire to accept or reject them. If you ultimately turn down an offer from the prosecution to resolve your case at your Settlement Conference, then your case will proceed to trial.
In adult criminal cases, you have the constitutional right to a jury trial in misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony cases. It is a jury of six people in misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, and a jury of twelve people in felony matters. You also have the right to waive your right to a jury trial and have a court trial, or bench trial, where the judge is the sole decision maker in your case. In petty misdemeanor cases, you do not have the right to a jury trial, but you may elect to have a court trial. Regardless of what avenue you choose in your case, make sure your rights are protected and proper procedures are being followed.
Rasmussen Hearings are hearings involving a request by the defense to suppress evidence prior to a trial. To get there, your defense attorney will file a motion asking the court for such relief based on an illegal seizure, illegal search, unlawful confession, or unlawful identification. Some courts may call Rasmussen Hearings Contested Omnibus Hearings, Motion Hearings, or Evidentiary Hearings. But they all generally operate in the same manner – the defense is looking to challenge some legal issue in your case before it proceeds to a court or jury trial.
Rasmussen Hearings derive from State ex rel. Rasmussen v. Tahash, 272 Minn. 539, 553-54, 141 N.W.2d 3, 13 (1965). This case stands for the requirement that the prosecution must give a Rasmussen notice under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 7.01. This notice must be given to the defense on, or before, the defendant’s Rule 8 Hearing according to the rules, so that the defense can decide whether to demand a Rasmussen Hearing at that time. In practice, however, Rasmussen Hearings are often not demanded until the Omnibus Hearing.
The Rasmussen Notice that the prosecution must give under Rule 7.01 should include evidence obtained from the defendant and of identification procedures of the defendant (i.e. a disclosure of the police reports, audio and video evidence, photographs, and other evidence the prosecution has against the defendant must be turned over to the defense so that an adequate defense can be prepared).
At a Rasmussen Hearing, the prosecutor will often bring the peace officers involved in the case. They will then often have those officers testify and your defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine them and call witnesses on your behalf. Often, the judge will take the matter under advisement and issue a written ruling later. In some cases, the judge will decide the motion on the spot after hearing arguments from both sides.
In some cases, the prosecution and defense will agree to the facts of the case through police reports and other evidence and will then simply have a debate on the legal issues either orally or in writing. This is called stipulating to the facts of the case simply for the pre-trial issue that is being challenged. This often occurs when no facts are in dispute, just simply how the law was applied is at issue.
Significantly, if the defense loses the Rasmussen Hearing, then it does not mean the case is over. That does not mean you are automatically guilty. You will still have the right to have a court or jury trial to determine the outcome of your case. Plea negotiations are almost always an option after a Rasmussen Hearing as well. But, if you do win your Rasmussen Hearing, then check with your defense lawyer. This may mean that some or all of your charges will be dismissed, or at a minimum, you will likely be on better footing heading into a trial, which can often mean a better plea offer will be on the table for you to consider. Or, you can proceed to a trial with some of the evidence in your case unavailable to the prosecution.
Prior to your Omnibus Hearing, your attorney may file motions asking for a Contested Omnibus Hearing. Some courts may call it a Motion Hearing, Evidentiary Hearing, or Rasmussen Hearing. Regardless of the moniker, the purpose of such a hearing is to challenge issues in your case prior to a trial taking place. If successful, this can lead to a dismissal of our case or charges within it. It can also trigger suppression of evidence in your case that can lead to better plea negotiations or give you better chances at trial.
One of the most common challenges at a Contested Omnibus Hearing is attacking probable cause. If there is no probable cause for the charge(s) against you, then it results in a dismissal. Probable cause basically means that there is a reasonable probability that you committed the crime. Both in Minnesota and at the federal level, courts will evaluate the facts of your case and the probability that you committed the alleged crime. If you do not challenge probable cause, then the court is virtually always going to find it and state that there is enough evidence for your case to proceed forward.
Another popular motion for a Contested Omnibus Hearing includes challenging search and seizure issues. If you want to challenge why the officer pulled your vehicle over in a DWI case or stopped you on the street, then this is the time to bring a motion. Also, if you believe that law enforcement illegally searched your person, car, or home, then you want to bring a motion challenging the sufficiency of the search under the Fourth Amendment. If you want to challenge the admissibility of statements or confessions, then making a motion for a Contested Omnibus Hearing to get that evidence excluded is something your attorney may do.
Upon challenging these evidentiary issues, the prosecutor will often bring the police officers involved in to testify at the hearing. Your attorney will also have the opportunity to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and present other evidence in support of your motion. Some judges will decide the motion at the hearing after hearing arguments from both sides, while other judges will take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling later after allowing both parties a chance to submit written legal arguments. If your judge decides the later method, then the court will notify your attorney when its decision is made with a written order.
Importantly, if you are unsuccessful with an evidentiary motion prior to trial, then this does not mean you have been found guilty or your case is over. The court will schedule another court date, such as a pre-trial hearing, settlement conference, or even trial date. If you do win any contested hearing issues you raised, then check with your attorney to see if that means any of your charges are dismissed or if you are just proceeding in the case on better footing.
In Felony and Gross Misdemeanor cases, the Omnibus Hearing is the first time the court will ask you for a plea of guilty or not guilty. Before you do so, a plea offer is generally made for you to consider. Sometimes, these plea negotiations happen on the day of your Omnibus Hearing. Other times, an offer is made in advance of the hearing so that you have time to consider it before the hearing takes place.
By the time your Omnibus Hearing takes place, discovery is usually complete. This includes all the evidence the prosecution has against you, such as police reports, audio, video, and any other physical evidence they may have. As the defendant in the case, you have a right to view all of this evidence. It is important that you and your lawyer review the evidence, so that your lawyer may determine whether any motions should be filed in advance of the Omnibus Hearing.
Motions made prior to the Omnibus Hearing may include challenges to probable cause for the charge(s) against you. Search and seizure issues are also a popular motion at this stage, including the basis for the cops to pull you over if you were stopped driving a motor vehicle or the grounds for law enforcement to search your person, car, or home. The admissibility of statements may also be challenged along with any other constitutional or evidentiary issues. Importantly, if a motion is filed at this point in your case, then the court will usually schedule a Contested Omnibus Hearing for your motion to be heard. Some courts will call it an Evidentiary Hearing or Motion Hearing. Regardless of what the court names the hearing, the purpose of the hearing is for your motion to be heard.
If you ultimately plead guilty at your Omnibus Hearing, then the court may sentence you at the same time or may schedule a Sentencing Hearing at a later date. If you enter a plea of not guilty at your Omnibus Hearing and you do not file any motions challenging issues such as the ones described above, then the court will likely schedule a Jury Trial date and potentially a Settlement Conference to precede it.
What is a Rule 8 Hearing?
A Rule 8 Hearing is generally the second court appearance in Felony and Gross Misdemeanor cases. Some counties will not hold a Rule 8 Hearing unless you specifically request one. But if held, the hearing is meant to advise you of your rights for a second time. The court will also want to make sure you understand what the charges are against you and give you a chance to hire your own lawyer or apply for the public defender. If there is a complaint in your case, the court should make sure you have a copy of it. They can also modify any conditions of release in place, if requested.
At the Rule 8 Hearing, you can enter a plea of guilty if you wish. However, most people will advance their case to an Omnibus Hearing. Felony and Gross Misdemeanor charges are serious offenses that generally require a more in-depth case analysis. By advancing your case to an Omnibus Hearing, or Pre-Trial Hearing, you will have the opportunity to challenge issues, such as probable cause, search and seizure issues, and other evidentiary issues prior to any trial taking place. Also, most meaningful plea negotiations do not occur until at least the Omnibus Hearing in Felony and Gross Misdemeanor cases. Therefore, most people will simply appear at their Rule 8 Hearing and schedule a Pre-Trial Hearing or Omnibus Hearing depending on what the county you are in likes to call it.
An Arraignment is sometimes called a First Appearance. If you did not have a Bail Hearing, then this is your first appearance in court. At this hearing, you have the option of appearing with a MN private attorney, applying for a public defender, or representing yourself. If you want to hire a private attorney, but have not done so yet, the court will almost always will give you a continuance to hire a Minneapolis Criminal lawyer, because you have a right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment for misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony cases.
At the hearing, the court will make you aware of the charges against you. On misdemeanor cases, they will ask for entry of a plea. Even if you choose to enter a not guilty plea at your First Appearance, you can change it at a later court hearing. So, do not worry about being stuck with a not guilty plea for the duration of your case. The same cannot be said for entering a guilty plea. Once you enter a guilty plea, the only way to undo it is to make a motion to withdraw your plea and hope that the court grants it.
For Minnesota felonies and gross misdemeanors, the court does not ask for a plea at your First Appearance. They will simply identify you (state name, address, date of birth, etc.) and make sure you are aware of the charges against you. Then, depending on the county, they will advance your case to a Rule 8 Hearing or an Omnibus Hearing. If conditions of release, such as bail, were not set previously in your case, then the court will also address those at your First Appearance.
What is a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit Vehicle?
Was your car taken away because of a DWI, controlled substance case, prostitution charge, fleeing a police officer, or for some other reason? If so, you likely received a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit Vehicle from the state. Most importantly, you must be aware you have sixty days to challenge your vehicle being taken away. It does not matter if you win your case, if you fail to file the appropriate paperwork with the court to contest your car being taken from you, then you will lose it, unless the prosecution is being extra nice and is just willing to give it back to you.
Currently, there are various defenses you or your attorney can raise if the state did take your car. Even if you are ultimately found guilty of the underlying charge, there are due process arguments to make and innocent owner defenses in some cases.
Most commonly, a person’s car will be forfeited for alcohol-related offenses. A vehicle is subject to forfeiture in First and Second Degree DWI charges, Driving After Cancellation – Inimical to Public Safety, and B Card Violations (no use of alcohol restriction on a person’s driver’s license). Significantly, law enforcement forfeits your vehicle for just being charged with one of the above offenses, which makes challenging them taking your car away even more important.
Another growing trend, is the state taking away a person’s car being for a controlled substance crime. If drugs are found on you, or in your vehicle, and you are later charged with possession of a controlled substance or intent to sell, then law enforcement may decide to forfeit your vehicle. Additionally, your car may be taken form you in solicitation of prostitute cases and fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle. The same general procedures apply in contesting these forfeitures. The most important thing to decide is whether you are going to file a petition for judicial review, or administrative review, within sixty days of receiving the Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit Vehicle. Most commonly, lawyers will file a petition for judicial review in MN district court.
What is a Notice and Order of License Plate Impoundment?
If you received a Notice and Order of License Plate Impoundment, then it probably means you got a MN DWI with an alcohol concentration of .16 or more or you have a prior DWI within the past ten years. There are other scenarios that trigger license plate impoundment, such as Driving After Cancellation Inimical to Public Safety, but the aforementioned ones are the most common ways to get your license plates taken away.
By the time you retrieve your vehicle, the police officers may have already taken your license plates off your car. If not, the Notice and Order of License Plate Impoundment will direct you to surrender or destroy the plates within seven days. Importantly, license plate impoundment applies to the vehicle you were driving at the time and any other vehicles registered in your name, even jointly owned. This can often trigger multiple vehicles within a family. And, nobody wants to have to put whiskey plates (also referred to as DWI plates or special registration plates) on their vehicle. If you do not want to have those plates on your vehicle, then you must challenge it through an administrative or judicial review. The judicial review process can be combined with the driver’s license revocation challenge. Not only do you need to win that challenge, but you also must get your DWI charges dismissed to get the license plate impoundment order rescinded.
If someone else was driving your car, and you were not a passenger, and your license plates were impounded because of a DWI they received, then you should do an administrative review and ask for your regular plates back. This can be done by faxing in the appropriate form to the Department of Public Safety. Upon receiving the request for administrative review, they will look up the police report for your case to make sure you were not in the vehicle.