A fair process is required

What is a felony conviction?
A felony conviction must be a conviction that both resulted from a felony charge and a felony sentence from a judge.  A “conviction” results after a judge “adjudicates” that either a guilty plea was lawfully offered by the defendant, or that a guilty verdict was lawfully made after a fair trial.

What is a felony sentence?
In Minnesota law, the level of conviction is determined by the sentence not by the level of the original criminal charge.  Minnesota Statutes Section 609.13, Subdivision 1 (2017), states:

Felony. Notwithstanding a conviction is for a felony:
(1) the conviction is deemed to be for a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor if the sentence imposed is within the limits provided by law for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor as defined in section 609.02; or
(2) the conviction is deemed to be for a misdemeanor if the imposition of the prison sentence is stayed, the defendant is placed on probation, and the defendant is thereafter discharged without a prison sentence.

Examples of dispositions or sentences that do not result in a felony conviction?
A criminal case that begins with a felony charge can end up not becoming a felony conviction in many ways.  One is where the defense attorney causes the criminal charge to be dismissed by the judge or the prosecutor.  Another is when the defense lawyer obtains an acquittal from a judge or jury after a trial.

There are also outcomes that can result from a judge after a guilty plea or verdict, or as a result of a settlement or plea agreement with the prosecutor.  One of these is called a “stay of adjudication.”  The word “stay” means to postpone or delay — in this case to postpone adjudication (conviction).  Another is called a “stay of imposition” of sentence.  Here, strictly speaking the felony sentencing is postponed for a specified period of time.  If the defendant complies with the conditions of the stay, the postponed action never happens.

A “stay of execution” of sentence, happens after a judge has accepted the guilty plea or verdict (adjudicated) and after the judge has announced or “imposed” a sentence.  Because a judge has “imposed” a felony level sentence of one-year-and-a-day or more, the conviction will be a felony level conviction, even if the defendant complies with all conditions of probation and successfully completes the period of the stay without violating any condition.  A stay of execution of a felony prison sentence means the probationer can avoid actually going to prison by complying with the conditions of probation for the period of the stay.  But he or she will have a felony record in every sense.

What is the value of a non-felony level sentence in a felony case?

Thomas Gallagher, Felony Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis
Thomas Gallagher, Felony Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis

Even though Minnesota Statutes Section 609.13, Subdivision 1, says that a conviction from a felony charge but with a non-felony sentence is not a felony level conviction, unfortunately there are other laws that significantly undermine the apparent intent of Section 609.13.  The two most often raised are:

  1. Employment and housing denials due to failed criminal history background checks.
  2. Loss of civil rights to firearms.

Gallagher has seen people in the criminal justice system attempting to persuade defendants to accept plea agreements on the basis that “the conviction will not be deemed a felony” under Minnesota Statutes Section 609.13, Subdivision 1,   This can be misleading since, while technically true, the effects of having a public criminal record of a felony charge with a non-felony sentence can still result in denials of jobs and housing, loss of gun rights, and other serious, so-called “collateral consequences.”

A good criminal defense lawyer will help people understand the consequences of potential outcomes while the opportunity still exists to change that outcome — before it’s too late.  With hard work and persistent effort, we can use the laws as a tool to help ensure that Liberty and Justice prevail.

For more on some of the specific crimes commonly charged as felonies discussed on this site see:

Questions?  Call Felony Attorney Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500