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 a conviction results; the judge can “stay” some or all of the jail or prison time with conditions for a period of time. And 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.
But in today’s information society, the collateral consequences can have a more damaging effect. And this is often 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 serious penalties, we must first understand exactly what is “a conviction?”
Law has its own special language. And it’s important to be precise in our use of language. So 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. And due process requires notice and the opportunity to present evidence to a fair and neutral magistrate. Moreover, this includes the right to challenge the government’s evidence.
A judge can adjudicate a defendant guilty after either a fair trial or a proper guilty plea. But in either case, the when a judge adjudicates guilt she certifies that:
- an adequate factual basis for guilt, and
- 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. So, a conviction for any of these three is a “criminal conviction.”
But legally, a petty misdemeanor “conviction” is not a “criminal” conviction. Because a petty is “not a crime.”
In other words, a Minnesota petty misdemeanor conviction, is a “conviction.” But it’s not a “criminal conviction.”
Unfortunately, however, employers and others may not understand.
Criminal case dispositions that are not convictions under Minnesota law
A “disposition” is a resolution of a criminal case. It includes resolutions other than convictions, too.
For every Minnesota offense level, we have dispositions that avoid a “conviction.” These avoid consequences triggered by conviction. So, 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.
When a judge “adjudicates” a guilty plea or verdict as lawful; that is the moment at which “conviction” occurs.
The word “stay” means to pause, delay or postpone.
When a disposition is a stay of adjudication, the judge sets conditions over a period of time. And if the defendant successfully meets the conditions, at the end, the court dismisses charges without a conviction. This is because adjudication never happens.
Adjudication (conviction) triggers devastating legal consequences. But if the defendant successfully completes the conditions of the stay of adjudication, she avoids those consequences.
Typically these are the result of a settlement agreement between the defense and prosecution. But 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 is when the court diverts the case from the court calendar with conditions, without a guilty. And this requires prosecutor agreement.
And if the person meets the conditions, at the end of the diversion period, the court dismisses the charge. So no conviction results.
The absence of a guilty plea is key. Because a guilty plea is part of the public record even where no conviction results. But if the prosecutor requires a guilty plea, even if 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. And at the end, if the defendant hasn’t violated any conditions, the court dismisses the charge. So, no conviction results.
Available for every Minnesota offense level: Though functionally the same, we use the terms Pretrial Diversion 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 some other states use.
If a prosecutor believes a defendant violated a condition, she can resume 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 the sentence imposed determines the level of a conviction, not the level of crime charged.
So, if a prosecutor charges a felony; but a judge imposes a misdemeanor sentence; then a misdemeanor conviction results. 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 amend Minnesota statutes; so that a petty does not result in “a conviction.” Like other states, a petty could result in a “violation;” or a “civil infraction.” Or, the Minnesota Supreme Court could amend the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, to similar effect.
But in the meantime, avoid the ambiguity of having a public “conviction” record, even for a petty misdemeanor.
The word collateral conveys indirect consequences of a conviction, as opposed to the direct consequences of a sentence. And convictions bring collateral consequences for every Minnesota offense level. But felony convictions bring more of them.
A core problem here is that for many, the so-called “collateral consequences” are severe — more severe than the “direct” 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. So this is another reason why it is important to have representation and counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Here are 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 consequences of a Minnesota criminal charge?
You can call Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500