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Minnesota Legislature

House division hears plan to cap probation at five years for most felonies

Nathaniel Reitz, executive director of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, provides a commission overview to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division Feb. 11. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Last month, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission approved a five-year cap on probation lengths for felony offenses, with the exception of murder in the first, second, and third degree, and all criminal sexual conduct offenses.

Unless otherwise changed by the Legislature, the cap will take effect for crimes committed on or after Aug. 1, 2020.

Presenting the changes Tuesday to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division, Commission Chair Kelly Lyn Mitchell noted the guidelines “are not a hard cap” because judges may depart from them based on a finding of “substantial and compelling reasons.”

House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division 2/11/20

Most probation revocations occur, if at all, within the first two years of receiving probation, Mitchell noted, and that only about 1% of probationers are revoked after five years of probation.

“A lot of the longer probation terms are not giving us the public safety bang for the buck that we thought that they would,” she said.

HF689, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls), would lower from six years to five the maximum length of probation for felony and gross misdemeanor criminal vehicular operation and driving while intoxicated. The bill would also adopt the five-year probation cap proposed in the commission’s 2020 report. No action was taken. Its companion, SF1606, is sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

 

Constitutional amendment proposed

Sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), the division chair, HF3157 would propose a constitutional amendment to place language authorizing the Sentencing Guidelines Commission into the state constitution. Currently, that language is in statute.

The aim is to insulate the commission from undue legislative pressure and give it the independence it needs to operate effectively, Mariani said.

Another Mariani-sponsored bill, HF3156, would appropriate $8,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 and $36,000 in Fiscal Year 2021 from the General Fund to cover unexpected labor costs at the commission and allow it to avoid laying off staff.

Neither Mariani bill has a Senate companion, nor was division action taken on either.


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