You may have heard of the concept of having a prison sentence reduced for “good behavior” in movies or TV, or of inmates leaving custody on parole. These are features of a system called indeterminate sentencing; in Minnesota, the authorities use the opposite framework, which is called determinate sentencing.
This means custodial sentences in Minnesota have a definite length before they begin, and cannot be altered by prisoner conduct or other factors.
This post explores the details of determinate sentencing in Minnesota in more depth.
How Does Determinate Sentencing in Minnesota Work?
The Minnesota Legislature administers sentencing levels for all criminal offenses through the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC). Judges have little discretion when it comes to handing down sentences outside these guidelines, meaning offenders that commit crimes of a certain type and severity should generally receive very similar sentences.
The courts do have a certain sentencing range they may use for certain crimes without their decision being a departure from the guidelines. The severity of a sentence depends on an offender’s criminal history as well as the offense in question. If you commit a felony DWI with no past criminal activity on your record, the guideline sentence is 36 months.
Minnesota is one of just 13 states that currently use determinate sentencing. In states that the more traditional indeterminate sentencing approach, parole boards periodically review inmates’ cases with a view to releasing them on parole on a discretionary basis. Additionally, judges in these jurisdictions may hand down sentences that range in length; “25 years to life,” for instance. Such sentencing is not possible in a state with rules like Minnesota’s.
The History of Determinate Sentencing
Until relatively recently, indeterminate sentencing was the norm in both federal and state courts across the United States. States began adopting a determinate approach in response to concerns that the discretion under the traditional system allowed for unfair penalties; two individuals committing similar crimes could end up receiving very different punishments.
Minnesota adopted determinate sentencing in 1980.
What Is Supervised Release in Minnesota?
Though Minnesota law does not allow for parole, there is a supervised release program in place here. Under the terms of the scheme, every individual convicted of a felony serves the first two-thirds of their sentence behind bars, before spending the remainder out on supervision.
In order to get out on supervision, you must serve “good time” in incarceration; this means you must not engage in misconduct, or the days you spend in jail or prison will not count toward the portion of your sentence you must spend behind bars. You cannot lose good time you’ve already earned, but you can miss out on future days by engaging in bad behavior.
The key difference between supervised release and parole is that supervised release is not granted on a discretionary basis. All prisoners, with limited exceptions, become eligible for supervised release in Minnesota following the accrual of the same amount of good time.
During your period of supervised release, the state Department of Corrections may require you to submit to alcohol and drug testing and limitations on your use of the internet. You may also have to wear an electronic monitor and live in a residence that is approved by state authorities.
Should you violate any of the terms of your supervised release, you may have to return to jail or prison. Alternatively, the authorities may decide to allow you to continue with supervision under altered terms following a breach.
Supervised release terms may also apply to individuals on probation.
Getting the Help You Need With Your Minnesota Criminal Case
If you’ve been charged with a Minnesota DWI or another type of criminal offense, get in contact today for a free initial review of your case.