In Minnesota, if you plead guilty or are found guilty of a criminal offense, you will have a sentencing hearing where a judge will impose consequences as a result of your criminal behavior. There are a lot of confusing terms that are thrown around during the sentencing phase of criminal case. This blog attempts to break down these terms.
A "sentence" is the penalty imposed by the court on a convicted person. A judge is free to impose any lawful sentence. There are many statutes in Minnesota that define a lawful sentence for a given crime.
Often times, a judge sentences a person after they have negotiated a plea bargain with a prosecutor. A "plea bargain" (also known as a "plea deal" or "plea negotiation") is a process where a defendant seeks reduced charges or lenient punishment in exchange for a guilty plea. When a judge is presented with a plea bargain, the judge is not required to sentence the person according to the plea bargain. However, if the judge deviates from the plea bargain, the person has the right to withdraw his or her guilty plea and proceed to trial.
While plea bargains are common, there are times when a judge is given discretion to sentence a person in a manner he or she sees fit. In some circumstances, the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor will make arguments about a proper sentence for a convicted person and, after those arguments, the judge issues a lawful sentence that he or she sees fit given the circumstances.
During every sentencing hearing, the defendant has the right of allocution. This is a defendant's right to tell the judge why a particular sentence is appropriate under the circumstances.
Minnesota law states the maximum sentence for a particular offense. For "misdemeanor offenses," the maximum penalty is 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. For "gross misdemeanor offenses," the maximum penalty is 365 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. For "felony offenses," the maximum penalty is determined by the statute for the given crime.
During a sentencing hearing, a judge will often hand down a "stayed sentence." With a stayed sentence, the court gives the convicted person a more lenient sentence in return for the person's cooperation with certain conditions. If the conditions are not followed, harsher penalties will ensue. A person who receives a stayed sentence is typically placed on probation to community corrections. There are three types of stayed sentences.
A "stay of adjudication" is a situation where a conviction is never entered on a person's criminal record, provided that the offender complies with court-ordered conditions. A "stay of execution" is a situation where an offender is given conditions to follow. If the conditions are followed, the sentence remains stayed but the offense also remains on a person's criminal record at the level of conviction. For example, if a person receives a stay of execution for a felony, the offense will always remain a felony on the person's criminal record. A "stay of imposition" is a situation where an offender is given conditions to follow. If the conditions are followed, the level of offense is reduced to a misdemeanor at the completion of the probationary period.