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How Long Does a Criminal Case Take?

One of the questions people facing a criminal charge ask is: How long does a criminal case take? The timeline of your criminal case in Minnesota will depend on the nature and severity of the alleged crime, the speed of the criminal justice system, the duration of the trial, and whether an appeal will be necessary. Delays at any stage of the criminal justice process may impact how long your criminal case will last. Generally, however, misdemeanor cases may resolve within weeks or months, while felony cases may linger in courts for up to a year.

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The most reliable way to determine how long your criminal case will take is to seek legal support from a criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer will be aware of the numerous stages in a criminal case and the timeline of each stage.

Call Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys at (952) 913-1421 for a free, no-obligation consultation if you have been charged with a crime.

What Are the Stages in a Criminal Case?

A criminal case goes through several stages over the course of its life. Familiarizing yourself with these stages will help you know what to expect every step of the way and prepare adequately.

Arrest and Booking

The criminal justice process in Minnesota usually starts when a police officer makes an arrest. A police officer may make an arrest under the following three circumstances:

  • The officer sees you engaging in a criminal activity;
  • The officer has a reasonable cause to believe that you have committed a crime; or
  • The officer has a valid warrant for your arrest.

You will undergo the booking process after arrest. This process involves collecting your demographic data, taking your fingerprints and pictures, and performing background checks. It may also involve allowing you to call your defense attorney.

The police officer will put you in custody after completing the booking process. The officer may give you a citation requiring you to appear in court at a specified date if the offense you allegedly committed is minor.

The criminal justice process may start when you receive a summons specifying when and where you should present yourself before a judge to respond to a complaint. The summons comes with a copy of the complaint. A judge will order for your arrest by issuing a bench warrant if you fail to appear in court as instructed by the summons.


After an arrest, you may need to post bail for the police to release you from custody. Offenses in Minnesota have a bail schedule that sets amounts for people charged with those offenses. You can post bail without appearing before a judge if you are charged with such an offense.

In most cases, however, the police will present you to the judge within 36 hours of your arrest. The judge will set the bail amount depending on the severity of the crime you allegedly committed, your past criminal activities, flight risk, danger to the public, and other applicable factors. You can then pay the bail amount, ask a family member or friend to post the bail on your behalf, or have the bail bond agency post the bail for you.

Arraignment (First Appearance)

An arraignment marks the start of the court process for juveniles in Minnesota, as well as for adults. An arraignment will be your first appearance in court if you respond to a summons or citation. A judge will ensure you know your charges by reading the charge sheet or summons in court. The judge will also inform you of your rights at the arraignment.

You will plead to the charges during the arraignment. Minnesota has three main pleas: not guilty, no contest, or guilty. Your case will not proceed to trial if you plead guilty or no contest to the charges. The judge will, however, ask you a few questions to determine whether you understand the offense you are pleading to and the conditions of the plea deal, if any. If the judge approves a guilty plea, the judge may carry out a sentence on the same day or set a different date for sentencing.

If you enter a not-guilty plea, the judge will determine the bail amount and other conditions of release. These conditions include travel restrictions, reporting to a supervisor regularly, or posting an appearance bond. The judge may order the police to hold you in jail if the judge believes you are a flight risk or a threat to the public.

Omnibus Hearing

An omnibus hearing, also known as a pre-trial hearing, must happen if you enter a not-guilty plea for a gross misdemeanor or felony charge. This hearing seeks to assess the evidence compiled by the prosecutor and the defense attorney and establish if it is valid and admissible in court.

An omnibus hearing permits cross-examination of witnesses each side intends to call during the trial. As such, your criminal defense lawyer can raise doubts about the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. Your charges may get dismissed if your lawyer convinces the judge that the prosecution lacks adequate evidence to back its case.

Rule 11 of the Minnesota Criminal Procedure requires the judge to ascertain whether a reasonable cause to believe a crime has happened and that the defendant was directly or indirectly involved exists. The judge will review the complaint, sworn testimony, reliable hearsay statement, and other relevant evidence when determining the existence of probable cause.

The pre-trial conference may happen during the omnibus hearing. This conference decides whether a resolution is possible before trial. The defendant can enter a plea at this conference. The court must set a trial date if the defendant pleads not guilty.

Trial proceedings must start soon after a defendant has entered a not-guilty plea. Following a request from either the prosecution or defense lawyer, a trial must begin within 60 days of the not-guilty plea. The only exception is if the court has a justifiable reason for a later trial date.

Criminal Trial

You have a right to a trial by a jury if you are charged with a crime whose conviction may result in jail or prison time. A six-member jury hears gross misdemeanor cases, while a 12-member jury hears felony cases.

During the jury trial, the prosecution will present evidence, question witnesses under oath, and make legal arguments to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer, on the other hand, will narrate your story, cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence and arguments that deconstruct the prosecution case.

A trial by jury comprises several stages:

  • Jury Selection: A jury constitutes qualified citizens randomly chosen from a list assembled from voter registration, identification, and driver’s license databases. The judge will first ask potential jurors a few questions. The prosecuting and defense attorney will each get a chance to question the jurors. This questioning seeks to choose a fair and neutral jury by eliminating jury members who may be biased.
  • Opening Statements: Each attorney will make opening statements to the judge and the jury.
  • Evidence Presentation: Your attorney will get an opportunity to present evidence, make arguments, examine your witnesses, and cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. The other parties will also get a chance to do the same. Both parties have a right to object to the other party’s conduct during evidence presentation.
  • Closing Arguments: Both sides will present their closing arguments.
  • Jury Instructions: The judge guides the jury on the relevant laws to consider during deliberations. The judge mentions legal issues in the criminal case and explains terms or statements that may be confusing or difficult for the jurors. The judge also specifies the standard of proof applicable to the case
  • Jury deliberations and Announcement: The jury will take time to discuss and consider the evidence and arguments before deciding. Upon arriving at a decision, the jury will inform a bailiff, who will, in turn, inform the judge. The court will reconvene, and the jury will announce its decision.

In a trial without a jury, a judge will enter a guilty or not guilty verdict. This verdict must be entered within seven days after the trial proceedings.


The judge decides a suitable punishment for the convicted offender during this stage. The judge will consider the type and severity of the offense, the offender’s criminal record, the offender’s unique situation, the remorse expressed by the offender, and other relevant factors when determining an appropriate sentence.


An appeal in a criminal case involves a convicted offender, or the prosecution, requesting a higher court to review the case. The higher court may order a re-trial, uphold the original decision, or overturn the conviction.

Common Reasons for Delays in Criminal Cases

How long a trial will last depends on the type and severity of the crime you allegedly committed. Misdemeanors resolve quickly because they often require less time to investigate and go through the trial process. Felonies, on the other hand, take longer to resolve because they involve lengthy investigation, discovery, and trial proceedings.

The following factors may also influence the duration of a case:

Trial Duration

Some cases have short trial due to limited evidence and few witnesses involved. Other cases have longer trial proceedings because they involve a huge volume of evidence and many witnesses to examine and cross-examine.

Filing an Appeal

You can file an appeal if you are discontented with the lower court’s decision. If the judge approves your appeal application, your case may take longer. This is because an appeal marks the start of a new process.

Speed of the Criminal Justice System

Prosecution offices usually have a huge number of cases to prosecute. They, however, have inadequate processes and limited financial and human resources to carry out their mandate. These factors may force them to prioritize their resources in some cases.

More Time Required to Prepare

Attorneys may request trial delays if they need more time to prepare or examine evidence. Judges often have broad discretion in granting trial delays to give attorneys ample time to build their cases. They may, however, deny delay requests if the grounds for the delay are not justifiable.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Navigate Your Criminal Case

Hiring a criminal defense attorney to advocate for your best interest is the most effective way to avoid lengthy prison time, huge fines, and the hidden costs of a criminal conviction. The attorney can gather and organize relevant evidence to develop an effective defense strategy. Other ways you can benefit from your defense lawyer include:

Thorough Case Evaluation

Your defense attorney will listen to your story and gather crucial information about your case. Your initial case evaluation will help your lawyer understand your situation and determine which defense strategy may result in a positive outcome.

Comprehensive Investigation

Police and prosecutors conduct a detailed investigation before charging you with a crime. Similarly, your defense lawyer will investigate the circumstances of the alleged criminal incident before building a defense strategy. This investigation may involve talking to the police about the search, seizure, or arrest procedures. It may also involve interviewing witnesses and visiting the incident scene to collect additional evidence.

Selecting a Fair and Unbiased Jury

The jurors you choose will affect the outcome of your case. Your attorney will ask potential jurors questions that can help reveal traits or experiences that might cause them to be biased against you. The attorney will then make challenges for cause to eliminate a juror.

Negotiating for the Best Plea Deal for Your Unique Circumstances

Your defense attorney may advise you to accept a plea deal if the chances of a guilty verdict are higher if you go to trial. The attorney will, however, leverage his or her strong negotiation and communication skills to get you the best plea agreement available for your situation.

Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys in Minneapolis, MN, will fight for the best outcome, no matter how long your criminal case takes. Contact us to book a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers. 

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

People accused, arrested, or charged with a crime often ask, “How much does a criminal defense lawyer cost in Minneapolis, MN?” It is difficult to accurately determine how much a criminal defense lawyer will cost. The reason is that numerous factors impact the cost of legal representation in criminal matters. These factors include the type and severity of criminal charges, the lawyer’s experience and reputation, required time and effort, and geographical location.
Confidential informants may provide integral information to help build criminal investigations, but how reliable is that information when they are receiving payment for their services? To protect them, state law requires the identity of informants be kept confidential. For those facing criminal charges, however, this creates challenges in questioning the accuracy and validity of the information given at trial.
Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.