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Levels of Offenses

In Minnesota, as in all states, criminal offenses are grouped by category as a way to roughly distinguish offense severity. The four categories in Minnesota are:

Category Maximum Sanction Examples
Petty Misdemeanor Fine of up to $300.
Not a crime because incarceration is not an allowable sanction
Most traffic violations
Misdemeanor 90 days in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine Driving without a license;
Simple assault (such as punching someone);
First-time DWI;
Theft of property worth less than $500*
Gross Misdemeanor One year in jail and/or up to $3,000 fine Second DWI in ten years;
Second assault in ten years against same victim;
Theft of property worth between $500 and $1,000*
Felony Over one year imprisonment and/or up to maximum fine specified in law. Maximum imprisonment penalties range from 366 days to life imprisonment. Murder and manslaughter;
Most criminal sexual conduct crimes;
Theft of property worth more than $1,000*
*Theft thresholds are effective August 1, 2007.

Higher level crimes demand more time and resources from the judicial system. However, lower level crimes are committed with far greater frequency than higher level crimes. Therefore, on balance, all levels of crime place significant burdens on criminal justice resources.

The penalty for any particular crime will vary depending on the facts of the case and the criminal history of the offender. Sentence lengths can and do fall anywhere within the possible spectrum. For more on sentencing, see The Sentencing Stage.

Note that in many states, any crime for which less than a year in prison may be imposed is a misdemeanor. Minnesota, however, utilizes a separate gross misdemeanor category in between felonies and misdemeanors. Under Minnesota's structure, a gross misdemeanor is not a subcategory of misdemeanor, but is instead its own category that is more severe than a misdemeanor.

Within the felony category, the sentencing guidelines further break down offenses based on severity. For more on felony sentencing, see The Sentencing Stage.

June 2007

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