Types of crimes and offenders

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office prosecutes all adult felony cases and all juvenile offenses. A felony is the most serious type of crime. It carries the potential sentence of at least one year and one day in state prison.

Different teams of prosecutors, victim advocates and legal support staff handle different types of crimes. In each case they seek justice for the victim and to preserve public safety.

Violent crimes are aggressively prosecuted. Attorneys seek maximum sentences allowed by the state's sentencing guidelines for dangerous offenders, career criminals and sexual predators. At the other end of the spectrum specialty courts and diversion programs are available for nonviolent, lower level offenders. Those specialty courts are drug, veterans, felony DWI and criminal mental health.

Not every type of crime or possible circumstance is covered. Factors such as the type of offense, the criminal history of the defendant, cooperation of witnesses and the quality of the evidence can affect the prosecution strategy.

This information is not legal advice nor an indication of what might happen in a specific case.

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Crimes against a person

Violent crimes or crimes against a person are aggressively prosecuted. These crimes carry the most significant penalties and prosecutors seek the maximum sentences.

All adult serious felony crimes against persons are handled by the Adult Prosecution Division. If the defendant is a juvenile or a known gang member the case will be handled by the Juvenile Division or the Gang Unit.

Each case is assigned a victim advocate, who will provide support and information to the victim and their family as the case progresses through the criminal justice system.

Several attorneys specialize in prosecuting child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and elder abuse cases. Advocates assigned to these cases have expertise in working with these victims. Additional information on how these cases are handled is included in those sections below.

These acts of violence include, but are not limited to:

  • Homicide (murder, criminal vehicular operation or manslaughter)
  • Assault
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Robbery
  • First degree burglary (burglary with a weapon or an occupied dwelling)
  • Second degree residential burglary (burglary of an unoccupied dwelling)

Grand jury

Minnesota law requires that all cases carrying a penalty of life imprisonment must be presented to the grand jury. All cases of first degree murder and some cases of egregious criminal sexual conduct or repeat sex offenders are punishable by life in prison.

In 2016, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office made the decision to no longer use grand juries in police officer deadly use of force cases. All decisions in those cases are made by the county attorney.

The men and women who prey on others are aggressively prosecuted.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault cases include sexual assaults in which the victim is sixteen years of age or older (cases of sexual abuse where the victim is younger than sixteen are considered child abuse).

Depending on the age of the defendant, the case would be handled by the Adult Prosecution Division or the Juvenile Prosecution Division.

These attorneys and victim advocates have expertise in prosecuting sex crimes.

Sexual predators

Cases of egregious criminal sexual conduct or repeat sex offenders may be punishable by life in prison. For those sexual predators we seek criminal sexual conduct indictments punishable by life in prison by taking the case to a grand jury.

These cases are prosecuted by the Adult Prosecution Division.

Sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is a serious issue in the Twin Cities. Many of the defendants exploit and manipulate vulnerable young women, sometimes underage girls, and use websites like Backpage.com.

The office has prosecuted a number of pimps using both the sex trafficking and promoting prostitution laws. They have received sentences up to 20 years in prison.

The young women are typically not charged with prostitution and the advocates who help them through the prosecution process provide support and crisis referrals, as well as other services.

Support and advocacy for victims of domestic violence are available at the Domestic Abuse Service Center. Staff can help prepare orders for protection, share information about the legal system and victim rights, review information for possible criminal charges and provide access to social services.

Orders for protection

If a family member, household member or someone with whom a person has had a romantic relationship has physically hurt you, or threatened to hurt you or your children, you can file for an order for protection.

Staff at the Domestic Abuse Service Center can help file for an order for protection and take it to the judge. They can also help you find temporary housing and other services.

Criminal cases

Domestic abuse cases are crimes committed against a person or their property if the crime is motivated by a current or past intimate relationship between the parties. Crimes against third parties may also be included if such motive is apparent.

Domestic violence cases are some of the most difficult to successfully prosecute. Attorneys in the Adult Prosecution Division aggressively pursue these cases, sometimes without the cooperation of the victim, because it is in the interest of justice.

Victim advocates with domestic violence expertise work with the victims of these cases. In addition to the services at the Domestic Abuse Service Center, advocates can make additional referrals to help victims get the support they need.

Child abuse cases include sexual assaults in which the victim is under 16, malicious punishment, child neglect and endangerment cases and certain designated physical assaults.

These cases are handled by adult prosecution attorneys with a specialty in this area.

Elder abuse is intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted person that causes serious harm to a vulnerable adult. Elder abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, threats, financial exploitation, or sexual abuse. Neglect or abandonment is also elder abuse.

These crimes are handled by staff who specialize in advocating for vulnerable adults.

Felony neglect

Our prosecutors helped pass the law that increased protections for vulnerable adults under the Criminal Neglect statute, ensuring that this kind of willful neglect can be punished as a felony.

In the case of criminal neglect or abuse of a vulnerable adult, there are three adult prosecution attorneys who specialize in these prosecutions.

Financial exploitation

Financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult is handled by the Complex Crimes unit of the Special Litigation Division. These lawyers specialize in following long paper trails and devoting significant attention to cases that can be difficult to prosecute due to their complexity.

Gang violence is taken very seriously. There is a Gang Unit that focuses on crimes committed by known gang members or for the benefit of a gang. This team of seasoned prosecutors and victim advocates specialize in handling the complexities that arise out of gang conflicts, they handle many adult and certain juvenile violent crimes involving known gang members.

The unit is part of the Special Litigation Division.

Guns cause more deaths in violent crimes than any other weapon, so any crime involving a firearm is taken very seriously.

Prosecutors aggressively charge cases that involve guns and seek maximum penalties for shootings, felons in possession and other instances of illegally using or carrying a firearm.

Felon in possession

According to Minnesota law, people who have been convicted of certain crimes of violence are ineligible to possess a pistol or semi-automatic military-style assault weapon. A prohibited person who carries a gun may also be referred to as a felon in possession.

Convicted felons who illegally possess guns when police stop them can be charged with prohibited person in possession of a firearm. Often, they are stopped for minor traffic violations or drugs. Other times, police are called to a domestic dispute or are serving a search warrant at a place where the felon is staying. Because they have lost their right to carry a gun, the law calls for a prison sentence.

Through a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s office, cases are reviewed to determine which jurisdiction could impose a stricter sentence. The federal armed career criminal law can send someone to prison for 15 years if convicted of illegally possessing a gun with more than three previous violent felonies or serious drug convictions on their record. The Minnesota statute has a five year mandatory minimum.

Felon in possession cases prosecuted by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office are handled by the Adult or Juvenile Prosecution division, depending on the age of the defendant. Cases involving known gang members are prosecuted by the Gang Unit.

Not all felonies qualify as crimes of violence; the law specifically defines crimes of violence to include offenses such as, but not limited to:

  • Homicide
  • Felony assault
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Crimes committed for the benefit of a gang
  • Felony sexual assaults
  • Felony drug crimes
  • Burglary in the first, second or third degree
  • Auto theft

Relevant Minnesota state statutes:

Impact statements

Gun crimes without a direct victim, such as reckless discharge or prohibited person in possession of a firearm, can be viewed as less serious offenses by some judges. Our office considers these crimes to be very serious. Similar circumstances can lead to serious bodily harm or even death.

Community members, especially those active in the Fourth Precinct Court Watch, often submit community impact statements that explain how criminals carrying and shooting guns impacts them and their neighborhoods. Impact statements are helpful in obtaining appropriate sentences in these cases.

In Minnesota, there are three degrees of felony burglary that include residential, commercial and public buildings. Depending on the degree of the offense and the defendant's criminal history, the guideline sentence can vary significantly.

First degree burglary

First degree burglary can refer to a burglary committed with a dangerous weapon, a burglary and an assault or a burglary of an occupied dwelling. The first two examples can be a residential or commercial property. The term dwelling refers to a residence; burglary of an occupied dwelling is sometimes called a home invasion.

First degree burglaries are handled by the Adult Prosecution Division.

Second degree burglary

A residential burglary (unoccupied) is a second degree burglary.

Burglaries of certain types of buildings also fall into this category:

  • Bank or similar business
  • Government building
  • Religious establishment
  • Historic property
  • School

Second degree burglaries are handled by the Adult Prosecution Division.

Third degree burglary

Third degree burglary is the burglary of an unoccupied building, typically a garage or business.

In Minnesota many of the garages are detached from the home, which is why many garage burglaries fall into this category. An attached garage is considered part of the home and thus would be considered a residential burglary.

Third degree burglaries are handled by the Community Prosecution Division because they are considered property crimes rather than crimes against a person.

Possession of burglary tools or possession of stolen property

Sometimes there is not enough admissible evidence to charge a suspect with burglary. However, prosecutors may probable cause to charge another crime, such as possession or burglary tools or possession of stolen property.

These cases would be handled by an attorney on the property team of the Community Prosecution Division.

Theft and other property crimes

Property crimes range from damage to someone else's property to stealing someone's property (theft). These cases are handled by the Community Prosecution Division's property team.

Particularly large or complex financial crimes, such as cases with losses of greater than $100,000 or multiple victims are handled by the Complex Crimes unit within the Special Litigation Division.

Drug crimes include selling or using illegal drugs. These cases are handled by the Drug Team in the Community Prosecution Division.

Prosecutors seek significant prison time for drug dealers. A defendant who ran a meth ring associated with a Mexican drug cartel was sentenced to 30 years in prison, a state record for a drug crime. Nearly 20 people associated with this operation were convicted. They moved meth from California to Minnesota, then distributed the drugs throughout the region. Their territory extended from the Twin Cities into St. Cloud and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Depending on the circumstances, a defendant may be a candidate for Drug Court. This is a specialty court with increased supervision and services. These programs can help people get the treatment they need and lead productive lives and are appropriate for less serious defendants with chemical dependency issues. However, we oppose these courts for drug dealers and chronic offenders who have already been offered treatment multiple times.

Drugs can destroy communities. The office partners with activists and Court Watch groups to monitor chronic drug offenders and other livability issues. They share the impact these illegal activities have on their families and neighborhoods.

Some financial crimes are particularly complicated to prosecute due to the complexity of the theft or the amount of money involved. Examples include mortgage fraud, identity theft, financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, employee theft and other economic crimes.

These offenses are sometimes referred to as “white collar crime” because the perpetrators use their positions of trust in business settings to commit thefts. Examples include bookkeepers, accountants, or business owners defrauding their employees, clients or the residents of Minnesota.

Victims of these scams deserve justice. There is a team of attorneys, paralegals and investigators dedicated to prosecuting these economic crimes. They bring special knowledge and attention to these complex cases. The Complex Crimes unit is part of the Special Litigation Division.

Criminals who continue to commit new offenses can receive longer sentences through a chronic offender enhancement. Prosecutors apply that enhancement for eligible offenders.

Crimes committed by career criminals may be handled by a variety of divisions, depending on type of offense. If the case is a drug or property crime, there is a particular attorney within the Community Prosecution Division who handles chronic offenders and seeks the chronic offender enhancement.

Court Watch groups often monitor these offenders and submit impact statements to the court about the toll the continued criminal activity takes on their neighborhood.

First time offenders who commit less serious crimes may be offered diversion.

Pre-Charge Diversion

Pre-Charge Diversion helps people avoid a felony charge and criminal conviction. Not all defendants are eligible for this program.

Eligible participants

  • Have little or no criminal history
  • Committed one lower level property or drug offense
  • Will admit their guilt
  • Agree to pay restitution to the victim
  • Will follow the conditions of their diversion agreement

Eligible defendants receive information about Pre-Charge Diversion with their charging information.

To participate in the Pre-Charge Diversion program, the defendant must meet with staff from Operation De Novo. A volunteer attorney will be available to answer questions. Defendants who have an attorney can bring their own.

After this meeting, the defendant either agrees to participate in the Pre-Charge Diversion or their case will be charged and progress through the criminal justice system.

To participate, defendants must accept responsibility for the crime and sign a Pre-Charge Diversion Agreement. The agreement will require:

  • Restitution to the victim
  • Three days of community service
  • No new offenses

Participants may also be offered:

  • Chemical and/or mental health screening and services
  • Help with education or finding a job

If the offender follows the conditions of that contract, the charge stays off his or her record.

Defendants do not have to participate in Pre-Charge Diversion. If they choose not to participate, the case charged and the defendant will receive a summons requiring him or her to attend a first court appearance.

Eligible defendants have four weeks from the date on the letter that was sent to sign up the program. Possible meetings times and locations are listed in the letter that accompanies a copy of the potential charges. Operation De Novo can also be contacted at 612-355-5000.

Mentally ill and dangerous cases usually start in adult prosecution and end up in adult services, part of the civil division.

The defense attorney representing a defendant charged with a felony crime might ask for a Rule 20.01 evaluation to determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial. The result of the court psychologist's evaluation, if it determines the defendant is not competent, is a petition for civil commitment started by the judge overseeing the criminal case. If the person is committed, he or she could be labeled as mentally ill, mentally ill and dangerous or developmentally disabled.

If the judge finds that the person is mentally ill and as a result of that mental illness presents a clear danger to the safety of others demonstrated by committing at least one act that caused or attempted to cause serious physical harm to a person and there is a substantial likelihood it will happen again, a petition can be filed to declare the person mentally ill and dangerous.

A trial then is held before a judge. If the judge finds the defendant mentally ill and dangerous, he or she is committed to the Minnesota State Hospital until doctors can certify the person is no longer mentally ill and dangerous.

Fewer than 10 people a year are certified as mentally ill and dangerous in Hennepin County.

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