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Felony Offense Level

What is a felony in Minnesota?

By Minnesota Felony Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher

Under Minnesota law, a felony conviction results from both a felony charge, and a felony sentence from a judge.

What is a felony criminal charge? A criminal “charge” is an unproven claim made by a prosector, filed in court. And here is the amended, 2023 Minnesota Statutes, felony definition:

“Felony. ‘Felony’ means a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment for one year or more may be imposed.”

Minn. Stat. §609.02, subd. 2

So, if the Minnesota crime statute carries a maximum penalty of one year or more, the charge would be a “felony.” The 2023 amendment changed the definition to match the federal definition. (Previously the Minnesota felony definition was a crime punishable by a “more than” one year. That one day difference caused problems; hence the 2023 change.)

What is a “conviction?”

A conviction happens at the precise moment a judge “adjudicates” a person guilty.

If a judge accepts a factual basis for guilt, and the defendant’s rights waiver; then the judge “adjudicates” the person guilty of the crime. Adjudication follows either a guilty plea lawfully offered by the defendant, or a guilty verdict made after a fair trial.

What is a felony sentence? Minnesota Felony Attorney

The level of conviction in Minnesota depends upon the sentence, not the level of the original criminal charge claim. So, Minnesota Statutes § 609.13, § 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.”

Minn. Stat. §609.13, Subd. 1

Examples of non-felony dispositions?

A criminal case that begins with a felony “charge” can end up becoming a non-felony “conviction” in many ways. For example, this happens when the defense attorney causes dismissal of the criminal charge by the judge or the prosecutor.

Another is when the defense lawyer obtains an acquittal from a judge or jury after a trial. So, a good Minnesota felony attorney can help get these kinds of outcomes.

But other outcomes can result from a judge after a guilty plea or verdict; or a plea agreement with the prosecutor. One of these is a “stay of adjudication.”

What is a “stay of adjudication?”

The word “stay” means to postpone or delay — in this case to postpone adjudication (conviction). But the stay has “conditions.”

If a defendant successfully completes a stay of adjudication the court will dismiss the charge. And under Minnesota law, dismissal after a stay of adjudication is not a conviction. But under some federal laws, like immigration laws, dismissal after a stay of adjudication is a “conviction.” So, your Minnesota felony attorney should be able to explain implications for you.

What is a “stay of imposition?”

Another disposition is a “stay of imposition” of sentence. And here, strictly speaking the court postpones felony sentencing for a specific period of time. But if the defendant complies with the conditions of the stay, the postponed action never happens. And as discussed, Minnesota Statutes § 609.13, Subd. 1, reduces a felony conviction to a misdemeanor for limited purposes, after successful completion of a stay of imposition.

What is a “stay of execution?”

This is one type of felony probation. A “stay of execution” of sentence, happens after a judge adjudicates guilt, and after the judge “imposes” a sentence. And if a judge has “imposed” a felony level sentence, the conviction will be a felony level conviction. Moreover, the conviction will be a felony even if the defendant successfully completes the stay without violating any probation condition.

A stay of execution of a felony sentence means the probationer can avoid prison by complying with the conditions. But she will have a felony conviction record, in every sense. Your Minnesota felony attorney should be able to help you understand this before you decide how to handle your case.

What is the value of a “stay of imposition” in a felony?

How valuable is a stay of imposition in felony case?

Minnesota Statutes § 609.13, Subd. 1, reduces a felony conviction to a non-felony conviction after a successful stay of imposition. So, that sounds good, right?

Well, it is a bit better than a felony stay of execution – the other main type of probation. Unfortunately, there are other laws that significantly undermine the apparent intent of §609.13.

The two most frequent are:

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

If a lawyer urges a defendant that “the conviction will not be a felony,” be careful. They mean that a stay of imposition can become a non-felony “conviction” under Minnesota Statutes § 609.13, Subd. 1.

But this can be misleading. While technically true, a felony charge with a non-felony sentence will be a public criminal record. And that record can still result in denial of jobs and housing, loss of gun rights, and other serious, so-called “collateral consequences.”

A good Minnesota felony attorney helps you understand the consequences of potential outcomes. Because you need to know while the opportunity still exists to change that outcome — before it’s too late. And we can use the laws as a tool to help ensure that Liberty and Justice prevail.

Maximum penalty listed on the Complaint

Every criminal statute includes a maximum penalty — a maximum jail or prison time, and fine. Judges rarely ever impose and execute a maximum penalty. But the maximum time for jail or prison listed does matter in one important way.

The length of probation cannot be longer than the maximum jail or prison penalty. So if the statute has a five-year maximum, for example, the probation period can’t be more than five years.

What is a Felony in Minnesota?
What is a Felony in Minnesota?

What are “mandatory minimum” sentencing laws?

A Minnesota felony attorney should first discuss:

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not apply to all crimes. But when they do, they may limit some or all of the judge’s legal authority to impose a fair sentence.

These laws ignore proportionality. Americans believe that “the punishment should fit the crime.” But mandatory minimum sentencing laws disregard this core principle. And now, the United States has more people in prison than any other nation in the world.

Some mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Minnesota have safety-valve provisions to help the judge overcome them. But others purport to allow the judge no role in sentencing below the minimum.

And the threat of mandatory minimum sentencing in a case, can be a reason to expand the role of the jury in the jury trial; to more fully inform the jurors about the penalty if a verdict leads to a conviction.

When a mandatory minimum sentencing law applies; a good Minnesota felony attorney helps the client avoid or manage that threat.

What is the Guidelines “Presumptive Sentence?”

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines suggest a presumptive sentence based on a formula. It’s goal is to increase sentencing uniformity in similar cases. The Guidelines determine a Severity Level for each crime. A formula determines a Criminal History Score. But a person with no convictions will have a History Score of zero.

The Sentencing Guidelines grid suggests a presumptive sentence. And it’s based on the Severity Level of the crime of conviction combined with the Criminal History Score. The Sentencing Guidelines Grid shows the presumptive sentence as a number, as well as a range, of months.

Your Minnesota felony attorney should discuss what could happen in the event of a conviction of the crime charged. And the best way to do that is to determine the Presumptive Sentence under the Guidelines. Then we consider any applicable mandatory minimum sentencing laws that override the Guidelines’ presumptive sentence.

The Guidelines suggest either a presumptive prison commitment, or a presumptive probation.

A probationary sentence can include up to twelve months of county jail (workhouse) time as a condition of probation. But a judge can also execute zero jail time as a condition of probation. It depends on the case, and any plea agreement.

Can a judge “depart” from the presumptive sentence?

Yes, but the judge must state reasons for departing from the Guidelines’ presumptive sentence. And a judge can sentence the convicted defendant lees, or more severely than the sentencing guidelines call for. We call that either a downward departure, or an upward departure.

Sentence less than presumptive, is “downward departure.”

Two types of sentencing departures

A sentencing departure can be either a “dispositional departure” or a “durational departure.”

A dispositional departure is when the judge departs from the Guidelines presumptive “disposition” of either a prison commitment or probation. So if the presumptive sentence is prison commitment but the judge stays execution of prison, that is a dispositional departure.

A durational departure is a sentence of a number of months outside the presumptive sentence range. So a sentence of 90 months where the Guidelines call for an 60 months, would be an upward durational departure.

And a judge would have to justify a sentence below any applicable mandatory minimum sentence, as a downward departure.

What is at stake? Your Minnesota Felony Attorney

To simplify, Minnesota Felony Attorney Thomas Gallagher has two types of cases:

  1. keep my record clean, vs.
  2. keep the number down

Anyone with a clean record will want to keep it that way. A criminal conviction can trigger many damaging consequences.

But even people with prior convictions want to avoid another one. Because old convictions on the record will age out over time, to an extent. For example, the Guidelines” Criminal History Score may exclude a discharge from sentence more than than 15 years earlier.

But some cases involve enough evidence to make negotiation of the number of months worth a look. So if the presumptive sentence is twenty years; a defendant might consider a prosecutor’s offer of a fraction of that. In the end, it’s always the client’s decision, not the lawyer’s.

Minnesota Felony Attorney Thomas Gallagher

Minnesota Felony Attorney Thomas Gallagher helps clients avoid lengthy prison sentences. And he helps clients avoid felony records. Even better, Gallagher helps clients get dismissal of charges, and not-guilty verdicts.

Attorney Thomas Gallagher’s 35 years experience could benefit you. And every client deserves the best defense. And Attorney Thomas Gallagher delivers. For more on some of the specific crimes commonly charged as felonies discussed on this site see:

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Thomas Gallagher, Felony Attorney

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