Charged with a Crime in Minnesota? You have More Options than You May Think

Charged with a Crime in Minnesota? You have More Options than You May Think

Getting charged with a crime can be a paralyzing experience — it’s difficult to focus on other things in life with a case pending.  Navigating the criminal justice system can feel overwhelming, especially if you have no understanding of the criminal process.  It’s like trying to play Candy Crush with your eyes closed… when you don’t have any thumbs.  However, it’s not the end of the world.  In fact, you have more options to resolve your matter than you may think.  That’s why enlisting the right attorney to advocate for you through all stages of the criminal process is important, especially when it comes to sentencing dispositions.  Why?  Because 97% of all criminal cases are resolved without a trial.  In other words, your criminal case probably won’t look like the episode of Law and Order you might be expecting.

The criminal process can move through individual cases with a frenetic pace like a news room – despite feeling ironically slow.  Prosecutors can be juggling over a hundred cases at a time, so it’s easy to fall through the cracks without a proper defense.  Being prepared and communicating effectively and succinctly with prosecutors can mean the difference between a favorable and less favorable outcome.  Therefore, being aware of all the possible dispositional alternatives is critical, and knowing which one is the best fit for your case.

What are Dispositional Alternatives?

The term “Dispositional Alternatives” is used because many cases are resolved without entering a guilty plea or there is a plea without a sentence.  In other words, many cases are resolved without you stating in court in front of a judge, “not guilty” or “guilty”.  Or, you state in court, “guilty”, but the judge does not impose a sentence.  These usually have a catch, which means that you agree to comply with certain conditions over a period of time imposed by the court.  Conditions can widely vary, and could include: restitution, no contact with victim (if there is one), counseling or treatment, no further similar charges, among several other things.

There are several dispositions, which in general range from immediate dismissal to the execution of the maximum sentence.  Below is a list of Minnesota’s disposition options.  Dispositional alternatives simply refers to all the different options.  Just for chronology, the list begins with the most favorable disposition at the top and works downward to the least favorable.  However, it’s important to note that the most favorable disposition available for a particular case can widely vary based on the specific factors involved such as, to name a few, the severity of the offense, evidence of guilt (or lack thereof), a defendant’s criminal history, and whether any victims were involved.  This means that serving jail time may be the only possible outcome available, despite being not ideal.  Each disposition has implications for your criminal record and the expungement process, which is why these are important to know. 

Immediate Dismissal 

An Immediate Dismissal means the charges are dismissed right away, as opposed to going into effect after a period of time, unlike a Continuance for Dismissal.  The prosecutor or the court has the authority to dismiss charges, and can be dismissed either with or without prejudice.  Charges being dismissed with prejudice just means that those charges may not be brought again, whereas charges being dismissed without prejudice means that those charges may be brought again.  Charges being dismissed are different than an acquittal.  If you are acquitted, it means you have been found not guilty — not that the charges themselves have been dropped or dismissed.  Being acquitted means that you could not be proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” by either a judge or jury.

Under Minnesota law, the prosecutor alone may dismiss certain charges without the court’s approval, and may dismiss an indictment with the court’s approval. The prosecutor must state the reasons for the dismissal in writing or on the record, which may include the defendant’s successful completion of a pretrial diversion program.  As for the court, it may dismiss the charges if the prosecutor has unnecessarily delayed bringing the defendant to trial.

Continuance for Dismissal

This disposition is the best alternative next to an outright dismissal of all charges or an acquittal, and is negotiated between the defense attorney and the prosecutor. For this disposition, the prosecutor agrees to continue the case without a plea for a period of time, typically a year, at the end of which the charges are dismissed, so long as you agree to comply with certain conditions during the set period.  However, if you do not comply with the conditions, you must return to court and either go to trial or enter a plea of guilty. The prosecutor usually requires you to waive your right to the speedy part of the right to go to trial.  Sometimes, prosecutors and/or judges will agree to a dismissal or continuance for dismissal if you pay court costs. This is an indirect way of fining defendants.  If you complete the period successfully, the case is considered to have been resolved in your favor.  This would qualify you for statutory expungement, which is a completely separate court process, and does not happen automatically.  Importantly, you do not have a criminal conviction on your record, so you can answer accordingly on job and housing applications.

Stay of Adjudication

Unlike a Continuance for Dismissal, you are required to enter a plea for a Stay of Adjudication.  For a Stay of Adjudication, you plead guilty, waiving your trial rights and admitting facts of the offense. The plea is then taken under advisement by the judge. At the time of the plea, you are not considered to be convicted of the offense pled to because the judge does not accept the guilty plea. Even though you are not subject to the formal sentencing jurisdiction of court, the judge places you on informal probation and the case is continued with or without conditions for a period of time. At the end of this period, if you have complied with the conditions imposed by the judge, the judge can reject the plea of guilty and dismiss the charge(s).  This means that you will not have a criminal conviction on your record, and can answer accordingly on job and housing applications.  But for expungement purposes, the case will be determined to not have been resolved in the defendant’s favor, which affects the expungement process and fees associated with filing.  If you do not comply with the conditions during the probationary period, you must return to court, the judge accepts guilty plea, and enters a finding of guilty and sentences you.

Stay of Imposition

Unlike the above dispositions, you will have a conviction on your record with a Stay of Imposition.  However, the judge will not “pronounce” a sentence with a Stay of Imposition. What this means is that a judge will not state at sentencing the amount of jail/prison time that you would be sentenced to if you violate probation. However, if you violate probation and your Stay of Imposition is revoked, a judge will then “pronounce” a sentence according to the sentence that would have been given to you when you were initially sentenced based on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which determine your sentencing range based on the offense to which you pled guilty and your criminal history score.  If you were charged with a felony, with a Stay of Imposition, if you successfully complete probation, the conviction will drop down to a misdemeanor. What this means is that after you are sentenced and while you are on probation, a criminal records search will indicate that you were convicted of a felony. But once you successful completion of probation, the conviction will be converted to a misdemeanor.  What is not clear, however, is how this affects the expungement process, and whether the initial charge or the lesser offense upon completion of probation is the controlling conviction in terms of qualifying for an expungement – the courts have yet to battle that out.

Stay of Execution

Like a Stay of Imposition, a defendant will have a criminal conviction on his/her record with a Stay of Execution.  However, unlike a Stay of Imposition, the judge will pronounce the sentence with a Stay of Execution.  In other words, you do not serve the prison or jail term specified by the sentencing judge, so long as you comply with the probation conditions.  If you fail to abide by these conditions, the “stay” of sentence may be revoked and the prison or jail sentence may be “executed”, that is, you will likely go to prison or jail.

Executed Sentence

Under an “executed sentence,” you are required to actually serve the prison or jail term specified by the sentencing judge.  Pretty simple.

Summary of Dispositional Alternatives

To sum up, think of the word “stay” as meaning “suspended”.  The above three “stays” apply when the defendant enters a plea, unlike a Continuance for Dismissal.  The “stays” differ in how many degrees each is removed from the defendant having to actually serve prison/jail time.  For a Stay of Adjudication, the court does not adjudicate the matter, meaning a judge does not make a formal decision about a defendant’s guilt, and the charges are dismissed after the probationary period.  For a Stay of Imposition, the court adjudicates the matter, making a finding of guilt, but does not pronounce the sentence, and charges are not dismissed after the probationary period, just reduced to a lesser offense.  For a Stay of Execution, the sentence is pronounced, but it’s suspended.  In other words, a Stay of Adjudication is three degrees removed from prison/jail; a Stay of Imposition is two degrees removed from prison/jail; and a Stay of Execution is one degree removed from prison/jail.

In order to navigate all these effectively, you need an attorney who knows how to assess your case’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  Your attorney must be aware of all of the sentencing or dispositional alternatives available in the community in which you or a loved one was charged because options vary by county.  Further, unless you obtain an expungement, which again is a separate process and does not happen automatically, all of these dispositions will appear on your criminal record, and it’s important to know how each one affects your ability to successfully seal your record.  For a free case assessment, contact our law office today.


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