Aggressively Protecting Your Rights

How do prosecutors decide on criminal charges?

| Feb 10, 2015 | Criminal Defense

The legal system is very complicated. It’s not intended to mystify you, but most people just don’t have reason to engage very deeply with the courts in Minnesota or anywhere else. That can make for a lot of confusion and consternation when you do find yourself caught up in a criminal action.

Regardless of whether events result in serious felony charges or a less serious misdemeanor case, the legal ramifications can be significant. It’s always wise to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the first possible opportunity — remembering to exercise your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney with you before any police questioning.

But how do prosecutors make the determination of what charges to bring in a particular case? Well, a recent item in the St. Paul Pioneer Press offers a glimpse into just that. You might have seen the item last Sunday. It was about the sad circumstance of an 11-year-old boy who suffered serious brain trauma after being struck by a car as he walked to school last fall.

According to the police report, the boy was crossing a busy St. Paul street at an uncontrolled intersection. Two vehicles approached from the left. The first one stopped for the boy. The other driver, apparently not knowing why the first car had braked, decided to go around and ran into the child. He was reportedly going about the speed limit.

State law gives the right of way to pedestrians crossing at a corner, whether there is a marked crosswalk there or not. So the boy likely had the right of way.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office considered filing felony charges in the case, which requires a standard of gross negligence. But officials acknowledge that’s hard to prove unless the suspect was driving under the influence, and that apparently was not the case. So now the matter is in the hands of the St. Paul city attorney and could be prosecuted as a careless driving misdemeanor.

The county attorney suggests it would be nice if another charge between those two would allow for a felony charge to be brought in cases like this one, but it’s not action lawmakers have seen fit to take.