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Court Process

Steps in Criminal Court Procedure


Criminal procedure:  Understanding the stages in the criminal court process will help a person regain control after the initial shock.  This is the criminal procedure for all Minnesota criminal offense levels.

Criminal cases often begin with police investigating.  Many steps in the process may follow.  But not all cases will make it to the next step in the funnel.  For a discussion of police investigations, see our page:

Police Investigation

When do I need a defense lawyer in the court process?

You should get a criminal defense lawyer’s help at the point in the court process when you can benefit.

Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher explains the court process and Minnesota criminal procedure
Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher explains the court process and Minnesota criminal procedure

Before or during a police investigation; you may benefit from the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney, like Thomas Gallagher.

What you are seeing for the first time, he has seen over and over again, for decades.

Gallagher can guide you away from trouble, towards safety.

For more about pre-charge legal representation, see our page:

Pre-charge lawyer retainer

The Charging Document

After police complete their investigation, they forward it to the prosecuting attorney.  And then the prosecuting attorney’s office decides whether or not to charge a person with a crime.  But a charge is an unproven claim.

Prosecutors charge crimes based on their view that the evidence shows probable cause to believe guilt.  Yet, prosecutors frequently charge innocent people with crimes.

The prosecutor’s filing of a Complaint with the court is a milestone event in the court process.  Then, you need a defense attorney as soon as possible after a criminal charge.  For more about the charging document stage, see our page:

Complaint or Indictment (Charging document)

Pre-trial Release Hearing

After the prosecutor files the Complaint with the court, he may request the defendant’s arrest on a warrant.  Or, the prosecutor asks the court to send the defendant a Summons to appear in court.

After an arrest on a warrant, the defendant appears before a judge for a pre-trial release hearing (or bail hearing).  And at the hearing the judge will set conditions of pre-trial release, which may include bail.

This step in the court process determines whether the court will hold the defendant in jail pending trial; and how onerous the conditions of pre-trial release will be.

For more on what to expect, see our page:

Bail Hearing

First Court Appearance

The First Appearance in court, after any bail hearing, is the first substantive step in the court process.  For a discussion about what to expect at a “Criminal Procedure Rule 5,” First Appearance in court, see our page:

Arraignment or First Appearance

Pre-trial Settlement Conference

We often have more than one court appearance between the First Appearance and the Jury Trial date.  And these serve several purposes in the court process.  One is to explore settlement possibilities with the opposing attorney and the court.  Another is to manage the case with defense motions and planning.  For a discussion of what more to expect, see our page:

Pre-trial Conference

Contested Omnibus Hearing

The contested omnibus hearing can result in dismissal of charges, or suppression of evidence.  And if the defense attorney identifies defense issues and files pre-trial motions, the court will hold a Contested Omnibus Hearing.  For our discussion of this step in the court process and what to expect, see our page:

Pre-trial Contested Omnibus Hearing

The Trial

The fact-finder at trial is either the jury or a judge without a jury.  The accused can waive her right to a jury.  The trial should be a fair procedure to decide past events; and whether enough proof exists to prove a crime by the defendant.  The defense lawyer can raise legal defenses at trial. We provide a deeper look at the trial on our page:

Jury Trial or Court Trial

Sentencing Hearing

In the court process, the defense attorney may persuade the prosecutor, or the judge, to dismiss the charges.  Or, the defense attorney may help the jury bring a not-guilty verdict. In either case, the accused won.

But if convicted, either after a plea agreement or a trial, the court will hold a sentencing hearing.  For a guide to better outcomes at a sentencing hearing, see our page:


Appellate Courts

Appeals are relatively unusual in the court process.  But we must preserve our issues for appeal, just in case.

If the accused wins the case, no defense appeal may be necessary.  But if the prosecution convicts, the defendant may want to appeal legal errors.

Defense issues preserved for appeal in the Contested Omnibus Hearing, the Trial, and Sentencing may be successful on appeal.

Pardon and Expungement

Collateral consequences of convictions can ruin families, push people into a criminal lifestyle, and undermine the legal economy. This is because they are long-lasting.

The best time to avoid conviction is while a charge is still pending, with the best criminal attorney you can afford.

But what about the past, after it’s too late for that?

This is our 12 page guide to the court process

A person with a conviction record can eventually apply for a Pardon from the Minnesota Pardons Board.

And for some convictions, the defendant can eventually Petition a Judge for an Expungement Order.

Some or all civil rights maybe restored if successful. Find out more about:

Minnesota Criminal Expungement & Pardon

Your Guide through Minnesota Criminal Procedure

Successfully Navigating — Step by Step Through the Court Process

The court process developed to serve many, sometimes conflicting, goals.  The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure attempt to balance these.

Most people have seen legal dramas in television or films.  Some have been to court on a traffic ticket.  But when a person goes to court on a criminal charge, it becomes important to understand criminal procedure.

And we are already helping you,with the detailed information here, on this site.

Your criminal defense lawyer should be able to both educate you and guide you through the court process.  And you should feel in control.  So together, we can fight to win.

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Question about the criminal court process in Minnesota State or Federal Court?

You can call Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher for answers at 612 333-1500.