Legal process overview

Find information about various aspects of the criminal justice process.

Learn about the criminal justice process for adults and the juvenile justice process.

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Starting an investigation

Reporting a crime

Call 9-1-1.

If you wish to report a crime that is a non-emergency, contact the city police department of the location of the crime at the non-emergency phone number.

The police will conduct an initial investigation. If the officers believe that a felony-level offense or juvenile offense has occurred, the police department will forward their investigation to the County Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. If a misdemeanor has occurred, the police department will forward their investigation to the city attorney’s office.

Starting an investigation

The primary investigating agency for a crime is the local police department. For example, crimes committed in Minneapolis should be reported to the Minneapolis Police Department. If there is no city police department in your area, report the crime to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

Once the police department completes the initial investigation, the police department will determine whether to forward the report to the appropriate prosecuting agency. The reviewing prosecutor decides which charge(s), if any, will be issued.

Dropping charges

Many people incorrectly believe a victim has the power to “press charges” or “drop the charges.” All crimes are considered offenses against the state, not solely against the victim. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office prosecutes criminal complaints on behalf of the state.

Only the attorney prosecuting the case can decide to file or dismiss charges, but the victim’s opinion is important in that decision. Many factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a victim’s request not to proceed with prosecuting, including the nature and extent of the defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime, whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system, and future danger to the community.

Charging and sentencing decisions

Decisions not to prosecute the person arrested for or suspected of a crime

In a criminal case, to obtain a conviction there must be evidence proving an individual’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is insufficient evidence, the office may decline to prosecute a case against a particular individual.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office prosecutes felony adult criminal cases and all cases involving juvenile offenders (people under 18), for offenses that occur in Hennepin County.

All misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are prosecuted by the city attorney’s office in the location where the crime took place.

Defendants who are not in jail after they're arrested and charged

Under U.S. and Minnesota law, a defendant charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to reasonable bail. Bail is a deposit of money held by the court which can be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear in court, breaks the law, or violates the conditions of release. If the court determines that the defendant is unlikely to appear at future court dates or is a threat to the public, bail or special conditions of release—such as no contact with victims or witnesses—may be imposed. The court may also order that a defendant be released on the promise to appear at future court appearances.

Difference between misdemeanor and felony

There are three levels of misdemeanor offenses: petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors. City attorneys prosecute misdemeanors committed by adults. Felonies and juvenile offenses are handled by county attorneys. 

Petty misdemeanor offenses include most traffic violations and are punishable by fine up to $300. Petty misdemeanors are not considered crimes because they don't involve imprisonment.

Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 90 days in jail or up to a fine of $1,000. Typical misdemeanor offenses can include simple assault (domestic or non-domestic), driver’s license or insurance violations, driving under the influence of alcohol, and theft or damage of property valued at less than $500. Some misdemeanors, including domestic assaults and driving under the influence, can be enhanced to higher level crimes with additional violations.

Gross misdemeanors are punishable by one year in jail and/or up to a $3,000 fine. Typical gross misdemeanors can include a second DWI in ten years, second assault in ten years against the same victim, and theft of property valued at between $500 and $1,000.

Felonies are punishable by over one year of imprisonment or a maximum fine allowed by law. Felonies can include homicide, robbery, burglary, assault with a dangerous weapon, criminal sexual conduct, possession and sale of controlled substances, motor vehicle theft, theft or damage to property valued at over $1000.

A shorter sentence than what is listed in the statute

The legislature establishes a maximum sentence for each crime. However, Minnesota has sentencing guidelines that determine what the sentence should be in each case. That sentence is determined based on the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. Usually, the sentence set under the sentencing guidelines is shorter than the maximum sentence set by the legislature. The court only has the ability to give a shorter or longer sentence from the sentencing guidelines if there are compelling reasons to do so.

More information on sentencing

Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission

About the County Attorney's Office

The office has five primary functions:

  1. Prosecute felony-level offenses committed by adults. Learn more about the criminal justice process.
  2. Prosecute all offenses committed by juveniles. Learn more about the juvenile prosecution process.
  3. Provide advocacy, support, and referrals for crime victims as their cases move through the criminal justice process. Learn more about victim services.
  4. Represent the board of commissioners, county administration, and county departments in legal matters. Learn more about civil law.
  5. Represent the county in civil commitment hearings for residents with mental illness, chemical dependency, and developmental disabilities. Learn more about adult services.

The county attorney

The Hennepin County Attorney is an elected position. It is currently held by Mike Freeman.

Legal advice

By law, the office cannot answer legal questions or offer legal advice to private citizens.

If you need a private attorney, one resource is the Hennepin County Bar Association lawyer referral line: 612-752-6666. 

If you're on a low income, low-cost legal help is available through Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid: 612-334-5970 or 612-332-4668 (TDD/TTY).

Other resources include the Minnesota Judicial Branch Self Help Center and LawHelpMN.

Obtaining public information

Booking photos

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office does not provide access to booking photos. For information on obtaining photos, contact the arresting agency.

Police reports

To obtain a copy of a police report, contact the police agency that created the report.

Time of court hearing

The schedule for district court includes adult felony and some family court cases and is posted at 8:30 a.m. Check the district court schedule.

You can also call 612-348-2040 anytime. For juvenile court calendar information, call 612-348-3174.

Restitution and expungement

To pay restitution

Adult restitution can be paid in person at the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. Sixth Street, Minneapolis, County Attorney's Office on the courts side of the 20th floor. It can be mailed to Hennepin County Restitution, 300 S. Sixth Street, Mail Code 502, Minneapolis, MN, 55487.

Juvenile restitution can be made through your probation officer, or by mail or in person at: Juvenile Probation, 590 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415. If a parent is writing the check, please put the child's full name and date of birth on the memo line.

Expunging a juvenile or adult criminal record

To expunge a juvenile record, go to the Hennepin County Juvenile Justice Center at 590 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, and request the necessary forms, or contact the fourth district self-help center, 651-259-3888.

To expunge an adult record, go to the district court self-help center (north end of the courts side of the second floor) at the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. Sixth Street, Minneapolis, or call 612-348-9399.

Crime information not on the website

Neighborhood crimes

There may be several reasons why the particular crime is not listed on the website.

  • The crime may not be a felony charge, in which case it would prosecuted by the city attorney for city in which the crime occurred.
  • The local police department may have determined that there was an insufficient basis to open an investigation in the case.
  • The investigation may still be ongoing with the local law enforcement, meaning our office has yet to review the case.
  • There may have been insufficient evidence to prosecute the case against a particular individual. In a criminal case, to obtain a conviction there must be evidence proving an individual’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Review current cases and how to access public court records.

To access police reports or crime statistics, contact your local law enforcement agency.

Once a crime has been reported, the local police department will conduct an investigation and file a report to the correct prosecuting agency. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office only prosecutes adult felonies and all juvenile crimes. The City Attorney from the city where the crime happened is responsible for prosecuting petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and gross misdemeanors committed by adults.

Juvenile crimes

Under state law (Minn. Stat. 260B.171, subdivision 4), with few exceptions, juvenile court records and court appeals records involving juveniles are not open to the public. The biggest exception is for felony records of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Read more about juvenile prosecution.

Data practice requests

If you are seeking information from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office under Minnesota's Government Data Practices Act you may request it by emailing datapractices@co.hennepin.us. We will respond to all requests; however, please be aware that much of the data generated by the office is considered confidential data or is otherwise exempt from the Data Practices Act.

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