Trials and Sentencing in Minnesota: What Happens in Court and After

Here’s What to Expect When You Go to Court in Minnesota—and After Court Is Done

Navigating Minnesota’s criminal justice system can feel overwhelming, especially when you don’t understand the process or what may be coming next. Here’s some guidance on trials and sentencing from the criminal defense team at our Elk River law firm. 

The Trial Process in Minnesota


Before your case goes to trial, you will likely have a pre-trial conference with the judge and the other parties involved in your case. During this conference, the judge will review the case and may make rulings on various issues, such as the admissibility of evidence or the scope of discovery.

The trial process begins with something called an arraignment. During the arraignment, the defendant hears the charges against them and enters a plea. The defendant can plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case moves into the pretrial phase.

During the pretrial phase, the defendant and the prosecution review the evidence. Your attorney may file pretrial motions to do things such as:

  • Keep unreliable evidence out of the courtroom
  • Address legal issues
  • Have the case dismissed


Many cases end in a plea agreement before trial. If they don’t, the case proceeds to the trial date. Trials can be in front of a judge and jury or in front of a judge only. Ask your lawyer what to expect in your case.

During the trial, each side will present evidence and witnesses to support their case. The judge or jury will then deliberate and make a decision based on the evidence presented.


After the trial, the judge or jury will deliver a verdict, which is a decision on the issues in the case. If you are found guilty, the judge may also impose a sentence.

 If that verdict is guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing

Post-trial Procedures

After the trial, there may be additional post-trial procedures, such as motions for a new trial or motions to vacate the judgment. These motions are filed with the court and may be heard by the judge.

After a Guilty Verdict Comes Sentencing

Sentencing doesn’t take place at trial. Instead, the defendant must come back at a later date and appear in front of the judge to hear what the sentence is. In Minnesota, sentencing follows specific sentencing guidelines that help keep things consistent across the state.

Sentencing guidelines are designed to ensure that all judges give out similar sentences for similar crimes. However, some say these guidelines don’t give judges enough flexibility in determining the length of a sentence.

Several factors affect the sentencing guidelines. One is the severity of the offense, including whether there were any aggravating factors (like whether a gun was involved). Another is whether the defendant has prior offenses on their record.

In the end, a sentence may include things like:

  • Incarceration in prison or jail
  • Probation, often with certain conditions that must be met
  • Fines
  • Restitution (paying victims back)


If you are not satisfied with the verdict or sentence, you may have the right to appeal the decision. An appeal is a request for a higher court to review the decision made by the lower court.

How the Trial Process May Affect You

It’s important to note that the specific procedures and rules may vary depending on the type of case and the court in which it is being heard. A local lawyer from White & Associates will have a familiarity with the local courts and procedures, which can help streamline the legal process and avoid delays.

Seemingly small details can have a tremendous impact on a case. If you have specific questions about the process in your case, it’s best to talk with an attorney. A local lawyer will have a deep understanding of the laws and regulations that apply to your specific case and jurisdiction. This can be crucial in navigating the legal system and achieving the best possible outcome.

To get started, contact our Elk River law firm by calling us at 763-241-0477. Consultations are free and confidential.

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