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What Is the First Step in the Criminal Defense Process?

The criminal defense process in Minnesota constitutes several steps, starting with investigations and culminating with appeals. This process can be long and exhausting. An arrest alone can leave you scared, confused, and overwhelmed with emotions. Making logical decisions in this state can be difficult, especially if it is your first time interacting with the criminal justice system.

Black man worries in conversation with his lawyer. criminal defense process

Fortunately, you don’t have to face the criminal defense process alone. A criminal defense lawyer with a proven record of dealing with cases like yours can help you build a robust defense strategy and fight for the best possible outcome.

Call Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (952) 913-1421 if you are under criminal investigation or facing charges. Consultations are free.

Criminal Investigation

The first step in the criminal defense process is investigation. The law requires officers to have reasonable cause before arresting and charging you with a criminal offense. These officers use different investigative procedures to obtain evidence against you. These procedures include conducting searches, seizures, interrogations, and identifying witnesses.

Seek the legal support of a lawyer shortly after you find out you are under criminal investigation. An early intervention from a skilled defense lawyer can have a positive impact on your case progress. In fact, depending on the nature of the investigation, your lawyer may negotiate with the prosecution to drop the matter even before charges are filed.


The police will arrest you once they are convinced they have reasonable cause. They will take you to a local police station for booking. This process involves recording your background information, taking your fingerprints and pictures, and filing an arrest record. The police may also search and interrogate you.

You may be wondering, “what is the role of a defense attorney during an arrest?” Your attorney will remind you of your constitutional rights. For instance, no law requires you to speak with investigators, and you should demand to talk to your lawyer before answering questions from the authorities.

Your attorney will obtain copies of documents related to your case. These documents may range from police reports and arrest warrants to the charge sheet and other relevant paperwork. The attorney will carefully analyze these documents and try to get your charges dropped by raising immediately obvious defenses like illegal search and seizure.

Initial Appearance in Court

Your initial appearance in court is called arraignment. This brief hearing must happen within 36 hours after your arrest. The judge will disclose the charges you are facing and their penalties. The judge will highlight your constitutional rights, including the right to stay silent, retain legal counsel, get a court-appointed lawyer if indigent, discover evidence, and get tried by a judge or jury.

The judge may require you to plead at an initial court appearance. Minnesota offers three plea options: not guilty, no contest, and guilty. Most defense attorneys advise defendants to enter a not-guilty plea at the arraignment. Doing that gives attorneys additional time to understand the case and develop a strong defense strategy. Your case will move directly to sentencing if you plead guilty at the arraignment.

The judge also sets pretrial release conditions and the next court date at the arraignment. Having legal representation at your initial court appearance is crucial. Your attorney can ensure the charges you are facing are clear and push for favorable conditions of release.

Omnibus Hearing

An omnibus hearing in Minnesota is also called a pretrial conference. You will be entitled to this hearing if you face felony and gross misdemeanor charges and did not plead guilty at the initial court appearance.

This pretrial process will begin within 42 days of your initial appearance in court. It may, however, begin within 28 days if you appeared in court for the second time or requested a speedy omnibus hearing. This hearing must happen in the district where authorities claim the criminal incident occurred.

Determining whether sufficient probable cause to proceed with the case exists is one of the primary roles of an omnibus hearing. The prosecutor can bring witnesses to testify against you. Your attorney can cross-examine those witnesses.

The judge will take reliable hearsay into account when determining probable cause existence. The case will move forward if the judge determines adequate probable cause exists. The charges will be dismissed if there is insufficient proof of probable cause.

Discovery Phase and Filing Pretrial Motions

The discovery period in a criminal defense process allows the prosecution team and defense side to share evidence and information regarding the case. This period involves exchanging police reports, photographic evidence, video footage, and other relevant documentation that each party intends to admit in court during the trial.

The prosecutor has a legal duty to give you evidence and information regarding your case. Besides discovering relevant evidence and information, both sides may make pretrial motions. The prosecutor may petition the judge to allow evidence at trial or order the defense to disclose certain information. The defense, on the other hand, may file a motion to uncover the identity of confidential informants (CI), suppress evidence, or dismiss the charges.

At this stage, your defense lawyer may secure an acceptable plea deal for you by skillfully negotiating with the prosecutor. Accepting a plea deal means the case will not proceed to trial. The plea deal may involve pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduced number or severity of charges, a diversion program, or a lighter sentence.

Between 90 and 95% of criminal cases get resolved just before trial through plea deals. This figure stresses the importance of knowing how to choose a criminal defense lawyer. With the right lawyer in your corner, you can get the most favorable plea deal from the prosecution.

Criminal Trial Proceedings

Your case will proceed to trial if you enter a not-guilty plea or plea deal negotiations are unsuccessful. The trial phase is when the judge or jury examines your case and decides whether you are guilty or innocent.

Criminal trial proceedings usually start with selecting a 12-member jury. Each side can have a potential juror removed if that juror has prior information about the case, is related to either party, or is not competent to hear and comprehend the testimony. Both sides also have a fixed number of peremptory challenges that allow them to eliminate a potential juror without justification.

The prosecution team is the first to make its case once the jury selection process is complete. The prosecutor makes opening statements, admits evidence, and supports the case with legal arguments.

The defense takes the floor after the prosecution has presented its case. Your attorney attempts to expose weaknesses or gaps in the prosecution’s case by questioning your witnesses, cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses, and presenting proof of your innocence.

Both sides will make closing arguments after presenting their case. The prosecution goes up first, then the defense follows. Both sides must comply with the Minnesota rules of evidence throughout the trial proceedings.

After the trial, the judge or jury will take the time to consider evidence, facts, and arguments presented by both sides and reach a verdict. The jury must reach a unanimous verdict. If not, the jury must declare a mistrial.


Your case will move to sentencing if the judge or jury finds you guilty. The nature and severity of the penalties will depend on your criminal record, your role in the criminal incident, and your degree of remorse. Judges are, however, required to follow the sentencing guidelines established by your state. In fact, over 95% of felonies are sentenced based on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.


All is not lost even after the court enters a guilty verdict against you. In some cases, you may have grounds for appealing the decision. Your defense lawyer can review your case to identify the issues that can improve the odds of a higher court granting a retrial or overturning the lower court’s decision.

When Should You Hire an Attorney?

The best time to hire a criminal defense attorney is soon after you find out you are under criminal investigation. The next best time is after you get arrested. The sooner you get an attorney involved, the sooner you can start building a solid defense against the charges you are facing.

An aggressive defense attorney knows common criminal defense strategies and can choose the right one for your situation. Your attorney can ease the stress and tilt the odds in your favor by identifying weak points in the prosecution’s case, compiling witness statements, and gathering evidence to back your legal strategy. The attorney can also take advantage of opportunities to have evidence against you excluded from the criminal trial if it was obtained unlawfully.

At Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys, our seasoned attorney can safeguard your constitution and legal rights and push for a positive outcome in your criminal case. Contact us if you need quality legal representation in your upcoming criminal trial. 

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

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