Criminal Law FAQ

What is a search warrant?

A search warrant is an order issued by a judge that authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search of a specific location. Before a warrant may be issued, a judge must find there is probable cause to search the location. That means that a judge must believe that there is enough preliminary evidence that a crime is occurring to allow the police further investigation. Because warrants can be contested in court, it is important that you have an attorney review any search warrants presented to you.

If a cop knocks on my door, do I have to let him/her in?

Unless the law enforcement agent has a warrant signed by a judge, you have every right to deny entry into your residence. Do not consent to any unwarranted searches!

What if I consent to the search?

If you voluntarily consent to a search of your residence, car or person, the officer can conduct a full search without a warrant. Anything that the officer discovers can be used against you later in court! You may think that it is in your best interest to cooperate with law enforcement, but often it will have a negative effect on your case, and you’ll be worse off for it. If the police really want to get inside your home, they should get a warrant!

When is it okay for an officer to search me?

An officer is only allowed to search you if he/she has a warrant, if you consent, or if you are arrested. Officers are allowed to search you and the area immediately around you when you are arrested. Also, an officer may do a “pat down” even if he/she is not going to arrest you, but if they think you may be armed. However, a pat down does not include a thorough search of your belongings or residence. It is only about keeping the officer safe.

What happens if I am arrested?

If you are arrested for committing a crime, you may be charged right on the spot via ticket, or you may be sent a Summons and Complaint. Either way, you will be arraigned and given a court date. Sometimes if you are arrested, you may be released from the police station without having to see a judge for a bail determination. However, if you are brought to a jail facility after your arrest, then you will see a judge who will determine whether A. you are released on your own recognizance (you’re free to leave); B. you are held without bail; or C. a bail is set.

What if a bail is set and I can’t afford to pay it all up front?

If you want to get out of jail but don’t have the money for the entire bail, you can hire a bondsman to post bail for you. This is not a free service. Generally bondsmen charge 10% of whatever the bail amount is. So if your bail is set at $10,000, a bondsman will charge you a non-refundable $1,000 to post the entire amount. When you make your court appearances, the bondsman gets his money back. However, if you fail to appear in court, not only will a warrant be issued for your arrest, the bondsman will be looking for you too.

There are a lot of places that will offer you bond services. I prefer to use:

  • AAA Bonding
  • Above & Beyond Bonding: 866-979-BAIL (2245)

What happens once I post bond?

You will be free pending your next appearance in court. Sometimes the judge will put conditions on your release, such as no use of alcohol, or no contact with an alleged victim. It is important to remain law abiding and follow the terms and conditions of your release so that you are not charged with violating a release order.

What happens at arraignment?

Arraignment is the time when the court formally informs you of the charges against you, your constitutional rights, and the possible penalties. If you do not have a lawyer by the time you are arraigned, arraignment is the time to seek legal representation.

What are the levels of crimes with which I can be charged?

In Minnesota we have 4 kinds of crimes: Petty Misdemeanors, Misdemeanors, Gross Misdemeanors and Felonies.

What is a petty misdemeanor?

A petty misdemeanor is any violation of law or city ordinance that is punishable by up to a $300 fine. Petty misdemeanors are not technically crimes. They are more like minor violations. You cannot be sentenced to any jail time for a petty misdemeanor. Sometimes misdemeanor crimes can be reduced to petty misdemeanors.

Petty misdemeanors

  • Speeding tickets
  • Public nuisance

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to 90 days in county jail, or a $1,000 fine or both. Misdemeanors are generally less serious crimes, such as careless driving or shoplifting. You may be charged with a misdemeanor by a ticket, or by complaint. Many times someone charged with a misdemeanor will not be arrested, but instead given a court date on their ticket. The penalties for misdemeanors are generally less severe than for gross misdemeanors or felonies, but can include some jail time, sentence to service, fines, or probation. Because your rights can be violated even in a misdemeanor case, it is essential for you to be represented even if you are charged with a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor offenses

  • Careless or reckless driving
  • Fourth Degree (first time) DUI/DWI
  • Theft under $500
  • Minor consumption
  • First time Violation of a Harassment/Restraining Order or Order for Protection
  • Driving after Withdrawal, Cancellation or Revocation
  • Fifth Degree Assault
  • Disorderly Conduct

What is a Gross Misdemeanor?

A gross misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $3,000 fine or both. Gross misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies, but more serious than misdemeanors. Often gross misdemeanors are misdemeanors that have been enhanced. For example, you may be charged with gross Misdemeanor domestic assault if you have already been convicted of a prior misdemeanor domestic assault offense within the prior five years. Some crimes become gross misdemeanors by virtue of a monetary amount. For example, theft of property or services worth between $500 and $1,000 is charged as a gross misdemeanor. Many gross misdemeanor sentences include local jail time and probation. It is critical that you be represented in your gross misdemeanor case to ensure that you are treated fairly and your rights are not violated.

Gross misdemeanor offenses

  • Issuance of a forged check
  • Third degree DUI/DWI
  • False information to a police officer
  • Assault in the Fourth Degree

What is an enhanceable offense?

This is a crime that gets worse with each charge. The first time you commit the crime, it is a misdemeanor. The second time you commit the crime within a certain time period, it is charged as a gross misdemeanor. If you commit the crime multiple times within a certain time period, it may be charged as a felony.

For example, if you are charged with domestic assault, the first time you are convicted, it will be a misdemeanor. If you commit domestic assault again within five years of your first conviction, the second offense will be charged and sentenced as a gross misdemeanor. Get charged with domestic assault a third time within five years, and you’re looking at a felony sentence.

Other examples of enhanceable offenses

  • Violation of Order for Protection
  • Assault

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