What are the four Minnesota offense levels?
Minnesota criminal laws have four offense levels:
Felony: a crime punishable by 366 days up to life imprisonment.
Gross misdemeanor: a crime punishable by 91 to 365 days jail.
Misdemeanor: a crime with a maximum of 90 days jail.
Petty misdemeanor: not a crime, but a “conviction.” No jail time.
All of these also carry fines. The first three are crimes. If court convicts a person of a crime, some or all of the jail or prison time can be “stayed” with conditions for a period of time. We call this probation.
In addition to the direct consequences of a conviction, a person convicted will suffer collateral consequences.
What are the consequences of a criminal charge?
For all Minnesota offense levels, a conviction triggers most direct and indirect consequences. But even a charge that did not result in conviction can cause some harms. Once charged, however, the most we can do in a pending case is to prevent conviction.
The courts distinguish between direct and collateral consequences. They consider the disposition or sentence resulting from a prosecution (if any), the direct consequences.
In today’s information society, the collateral consequences often have a more damaging effect, for example due to public criminal records.
This page summarizes these consequences, with links to more in-depth pages.
What is a criminal conviction?
Because convictions trigger the serious penalties and consequences in a criminal case, we must first understand what a “conviction” is, exactly.
Law has its own special language. It’s important to be precise in our use of language on these topics. You may learn some legal terminology here.
A “conviction” is an “adjudication.”
Until a Judge decides that the court process was a lawful process, there is no conviction or adjudication.
A lawful process meets the minimum standards of constitutional due process. This includes notice and the right to be heard before a fair and neutral magistrate.
A judge can adjudicate a defendant guilty after either a fair trial or a proper guilty plea. In either case, the when a judge adjudicates guilt he or she certifies that a factual basis for guilt has been proven and that it was the result of a fair legal process.
What about the phrase “criminal conviction?”
Of the four Minnesota offense levels, felonies, gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors are crimes. A conviction for any of the three is a “criminal conviction.”
But legally, a petty misdemeanor “conviction” is not a “criminal” conviction, since a petty is “not a crime.” Unfortunately, employers and others may not understand that.
Criminal case dispositions that are not convictions under Minnesota law
For every Minnesota offense level, we can get dispositions that avoid “conviction.” A “disposition” is a resolution of a criminal case. It includes resolutions other than convictions. These avoid consequences triggered by conviction. Let’s look at two of them.
Stay of Adjudication – every Minnesota offense level
A stay of adjudication is one of the many types of outcomes of criminal cases. The point at which a judge “adjudicates” a guilty plea or guilty verdict as lawful, is the moment at which “conviction” occurs.
The word “stay” means to pause, delay or postpone.
When a disposition of a criminal case is a stay of adjudication, the judge will set conditions over a period of time. If the defendant successfully meets the conditions, at the end of the period of the stay, the court dismisses charges without a conviction. This is because adjudication never happened.
Adjudication (conviction) triggers devastating legal consequences. If the defendant successfully completes the conditions of the stay of adjudication, he or she avoids those consequences.
Though typically these are the result of a settlement agreement between the defense and prosecution, there are cases where a judge can order a stay of adjudication without agreement of the prosecutor. (For example, in a Minnesota Statutes Section 152.18 drug case.)
A stay of adjudication is a possible disposition for cases in every Minnesota offense level.
Pretrial Diversion or Continuance for Dismissal – every Minnesota offense level
Pretrial Diversion describes a case where the defendant has been charged with a crime but the prosecutor’s office has agreed to divert the case off the court calendar for some period of time with conditions, without a guilty plea.
If the person meets the conditions, the court dismisses the charge without a conviction.
The absence of a guilty plea is key, since a guilty plea in a criminal case is part of the public record even if there was no conviction (as in the case of a Stay of Adjudication). If the prosecutor requires a guilty plea, even though they call it “Pretrial Diversion;” it’s not.
A Continuance for Dismissal without a plea (sometimes a “Continuance Without a Plea”) is similar. Under the agreement, the court postpones the pending criminal charge with conditions. At the end, if the defendant hasn’t violated any conditions, the court dismisses the charge. No conviction results.
Available for every Minnesota offense level: Though the same functionally, the term Pretrial Diversion tends to be used for felony cases; and Continuance for Dismissal for non-felony and traffic cases. Lawyers sometimes use other terms to describe the same thing: the conditioned postponement of prosecution, without a guilty plea.
Deferred prosecution is another common term used in other states.
In the event a prosecutor believes a defendant violated a condition, he or she can resume the prosecution as if the diversion had never happened.
If there is a conviction, what is the level of conviction?
In Minnesota, a conviction will have an offense level:
What seems simple at first glance, turns out to require a little deeper understanding of the law. Why? In Minnesota, the level of a conviction is determined by the sentence imposed not by the crime charged.
If a prosecutor charged a person with a felony, but a judge gave a misdemeanor sentence, then the conviction level is a misdemeanor. Minnesota Statutes 609.13.
What about petty misdemeanors?
The meaning of a Minnesota “petty misdemeanor” is problematic due to imprecise language in the laws.
On the one hand a petty misdemeanor is “not a crime.”
But on the other hand, one can have a petty misdemeanor “conviction.”
Normally we associate the word “conviction” with the words “crime” and “criminal.”
The Minnesota legislature could improve the situation by amending Minnesota statutes to clarify that an admission to a petty misdemeanor charge results in an “adjudicated violation” (borrowing the term adjudication from juvenile law) or a “civil infraction,” not a conviction. The Minnesota Supreme Court could amend the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, to similar effect.
In the meantime, many people will want to avoid the ambiguity of having a public criminal record of “conviction,” even for a petty misdemeanor which, after all, is “not a crime.”
The word collateral conveys indirect consequences of a conviction, as opposed to the direct consequences of a sentence. Convictions bring collateral consequences for every Minnesota offense level. Felony convictions bring more of them, however.
A core problem here is that for many, the so-called “collateral consequences” are severe — much more that the other consequences.
The notice problem: There is a due process fairness issue here. Most people don’t know about the severe “collateral” consequences until after their criminal case has already been resolved. But then, it’s too late to avoid them. This is another reason why it is important to have representation and counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Here is a list of examples of common collateral consequences:
- Criminal records
- Failed employment background checks
- Loss of civil rights to firearms
- Immigration law consequences, such as deportation
- Predatory offender registration, including sex offender registration
- Occupational license denials
- Housing denials
- Asset forfeitures, including car forfeiture
- Drivers license revocation
Have a question about potential consequences of a Minnesota criminal charge? You can call Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500