How do Bail Hearings Work in Minnesota?
Not too long ago, I represented a client whose bail was set at $75,000 after he was arrested on an outstanding warrant. He could put his hands on $5,000, not enough for a bond. I knew my client wasn’t a flight risk—that’s why I agreed to represent him. And I knew something else: how the law works and what judges really care about when they set bail.
How is Bail Determined in Minnesota?
Minnesota’s constitution, unlike the federal government’s, guarantees the absolute right to bail. Judges know that decisions surrounding bail will be part of any case they hear, and those decisions are part of a judge’s preparation for any criminal case.
When deciding where to set bail, judges consider the severity of both the offense and of the punishment should the defendant be found guilty. They also consider the defendant’s physical condition and financial resources, and of course they weigh the likelihood of the defendant appearing at trial as required.
Too often, I see other attorneys in Minnesota fumble their bail hearings. A compelling story and a stalwart denial of the charges just aren’t enough. Judges need to weigh each defendant’s story against the law. Appealing to precedent can help influence a judge’s decision; insisting on a defendant’s innocence will not.
The Benefits of Staying Up to Date
The recent Minnesota Supreme Court case of State v. Martin is an especially effective point of reference in bail hearings. This decision established that prosecutors cannot appeal to public safety as a reason for requesting high bail if there was a significant delay in charging the defendant. After all, if they really believed that public safety was at issue, they would have acted swiftly to remove the defendant from society. In Martin, prosecutors waited only a month, but that was enough time to undermine their claim that bail should be set high in the name of public safety.
I used Martin recently to argue that the state, which had waited a month to charge my client, had given up its right to claim that bail was necessary to ensure public safety. The prosecutor wasn’t familiar enough with the case to immediately see what was happening, but the judge knew exactly what I was getting at. It didn’t help the prosecutor’s case when they acknowledged that the police had received enough information to charge my client well over a month previously.
I argued successfully that the police are the prosecutor’s agents, and that the terms established by Martin had been satisfied by the delay in pressing charges. The judge saw things my way and reduced bail to $5,000, allowing my client to post a $500 bond.
Choose a Minnesota Attorney Who’ll be There for You
Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike can fall into comfortable habits. When the same arguments keep working, you stick with what you know. Until it doesn’t. I owe my clients better than that. The law is constantly evolving, and every time a case is decided, there’s a chance that it can give attorneys a powerful new way to support their clients. I stay up to date on the latest legal developments in Minnesota so that my clients have the full weight of the law on their side.
My approach takes a lot of reading and study, but it’s good for my clients—and good for me, too, for what that’s worth. In the case I discussed above, I spent a good deal of time and money putting up a successful opposition to the original level of bail. And I made up a good deal of that expense at the arraignment. Too many attorneys would rather not contest bail, letting their clients spend their last dollars on bail bonds. That’s not good for anyone. A good attorney will be there for you every step of the way, including at your bail hearing.