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Appearing in Court

Why do I have to go to court? Why can't I just pay a fine?

State statues dictate which violations are payable and which ones require a court appearance. The sentence on a court-required charge, if you plead guilty or are found guilty, is up to the judge.

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Can I get a public defender?

Only if the charge carries the possibility of jail time and only if you qualify financially.
If you spoke to a Hearing Officer and are scheduled for a Court Trial, you cannot request a public defender on the day of the trial. If you think the charge carries the possibility of jail time and if you think you are otherwise eligible, you must contact the court to appear at an arraignment court where the public defenders are appointed.
http://www.pubdef.state.mn.us/

If you don't think you qualify for a public defender, but can't afford a private attorney, you may want to talk to Criminal Defense Services, Inc. This is a non-profit organization that provides low-cost legal representation on a sliding scale based on your abilty to pay.

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How do I apply for a Public Defender?

If the charge carries the possibility of jail time, you can apply for a public defender when you make your first appearance in court. You will need to fill out a qualification form to determine if you are eligible. Be sure to be on time for your court appearance -- the public defender announcement is made and application forms are provided at the beginning of the court session.

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What happens if I miss my court appearance?

There are several things that may happen.

  • An arrest warrant can be ordered
  • You may lose any bail or bond that you posted
  • The charge may be certified to your driving record
  • Your License to drive a motor vehicle may be suspended.

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Can I reschedule a court appearance?

If there is a reason you can't appear at your scheduled court hearing you must either:

  • Contact your attorney if you have one and ask him or her to help you.
  • Contact the court if you don't have an attorney. You must contact the court as soon as you know you can't appear. Depending on the circumstances, a continuance may or may not be granted. There are specific policies about how far in advance you make the request and/or providing proof that you can't appear. The decision may be referred to the prosecutor or to the presiding judge.

For St. Paul cases, call (651) 266-8180
For suburban cases, call (651) 266-1999

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What happens when I go to court?

Your first appearance in court is called an arraignment. At this hearing, your charges will be read to you. The judge will ask you if you want to plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, a pretrial session will be scheduled for a later date. If you plead guilty, you may be sentenced the same day, or the judge can request that a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) be done to give the judge more information about you before you are sentenced. If the judge requests a PSI, your sentencing date will be set out approximately 6 to 8 weeks. Your release status may be reviewed at the arraignment. If you are in custody, the prosecutor, defense attorney and the judge will discuss what amount of bail should be set for your case.

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What kind of sentence will I receive?

By law, every violation has a maximum fine and a maximum amount of jail time associated with it. You will be told what these maximums are at your first appearance in court. The sentence you would receive if you plead guilty or are found guilty is -- within these maximums -- up to the judge who sentences you.

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