Although the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements with prosecutors, judges have final say over sentencing. The records of individual judges can be seen and sorted by using the “Case Data” feature.
When judges are habitually weak on sentencing for sexual violence, it can have a major impact on how prosecutors make their charging and plea-bargaining decisions.
A prosecutor concerned about a judge’s weak sentencing can insist on charging the most serious offense, so that the sentencing guidelines at least recommend state prison. However, it is within a judge’s power to depart from the guidelines and grant a stay (probation), even for child rape*.
Conversely, when judges habitually refuse to impose prison time, it can create pressure for more expedient plea bargains. Knowing a judge’s outlook, defense attorneys are less likely to agree to plea offers requiring prison time, requiring a county attorney to decide between dedicating scarce resources to going to trial or taking what he or she can get.
The best sex crimes prosecutors are willing to go to trial and even risk losing. Too often, however, prosecutors are risk-averse and eager for a quick and easy resolution.
Ultimately, the outcomes shown on this website — good and bad — are the result of a range of interactions between prosecutors, judges, police, and social service agencies.
Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. Called County Attorneys in Minnesota, they decide whether to prosecute sexual predators. They decide what to charge. And in most cases, they present judges with already agreed-upon plea deals, giving the prosecutor enormous power to determine final outcomes. The time a case spends before a judge is often measured in minutes.
When prosecutors are habitually weak on charging and plea-bargaining, it can similarly have a strong impact on how police operate. Police might learn over time that their prosecutor only wants certain types of “slam-dunk” cases and refrain from aggressively pursuing difficult cases.
Police attitudes and practices can, in turn, leave child protective services without the assistance they need to conduct proper criminal investigations and gather the evidence needed to turn family court cases into viable criminal court cases.
* Minnesota’s Criminal Sexual Conduct laws allow probation for rape of children under 13 by family members if a judge deems it to be in the interest of the “family unit.”