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Criminal Justice Systems

Understanding The North Star State’s Dept. Of Public Safety

The Minnesota Criminal Justice System is composed of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Minnesota Judicial Branch (MJB) and the many law enforcement agencies that enforce the jurisdictions and policies of these two departments.

The MJB manages the laws of the state, sentencing, and procedure. The MJB is also responsible for licensing and services associated with public safety information, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, fire safety, driver licensing and vehicle registration, and law enforcement.

Minnesota Supreme Court Building by Jonathunder

The MJB consists of three levels of court. From the highest level, they are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the District Courts. The Supreme Court handles high-level cases, but also has the responsibility for regulating the practice of law and the proclamation of statewide procedural rules and practices before all courts of the state. The Minnesota Supreme Court has seven justices, each of whom serve six-year terms after a statewide non-partisan ballot. If a justice dies, resigns, or otherwise leaves office, the governor appoints someone to finish the term. The judges must be lawyers, but they cannot practice law while in office.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals offers a prompt and deliberate review of all final rulings from trial courts, state agencies, and municipal governments. This court is known as an “error-correcting” court, and handles the majority of appeals in the state. This, in turn, allows the Minnesota Supreme Court to manage its caseload, and spend time resolving constitutional and public policy cases. Most appeals to the Supreme Court originate in the Court of Appeals after reviewing a decision from a lower court. The Court of Appeals has 19 judges and one chief justice who is appointed by the governor for a term of three years. The chief justice serves as the head of court. The other judges serve for terms of six years.

At the bottom of the court structure are the district - or trial - courts. They handle the majority of cases in the state, including cases that involve civil action, criminal decisions, family, juvenile, probate, and ordinance violation cases. Out of the 293 district court judges, one from each of Minnesota's 10 judicial is elected as a chief judge for a two-year term. They are responsible for managing the judicial district.

“ The MJB consists of three levels of court. From the highest level, they are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the District Courts. ”



Minnesota Supreme Court

Appeals from: Court of Appeals

Trial court decisions if Supreme Court chooses to bypass the Court of Appeals

Tax Court Appeals

Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals

Original Actions: First-degree murder convictions

Writs of Prohibition

Writs of Habeas Corpus

Writs of Mandamus

Legislative election contests

Minnesota Court of Appeals

Appeals from: All trial court decisions, except first degree murder convictions

Decisions of Commissioner of Economic Security

Administrative agency decisions, except Tax Court & Workers’ Compensation Court

Original Actions: Writs of mandamus or prohibition, which order a trial judge or public official to perform a specified act, such as permitting media coverage of a hearing

Minnesota Trial (District) Courts

Original Actions: Civil Actions

Criminal Actions




Violations of city ordinances

Appeals from: Conciliation Court

Conciliation Division: Civil disputes up to $10,000

Called trial de novo-actually a new trial, not just a review of the conciliation court.

Writ of prohibition-asks that a governmental body or official be prevented from doing something that might cause harm.

Habeas corpus-a complaint alleging that someone has been unlawfully confined and is asking for release.

Mandamus-asks that a governmental body or official be commanded to perform a specific act.

The Department of Public Safety represents 15 different divisions devoted to promoting public safety and awareness.


The DPS is responsible for determining the best way of detection, apprehension, and incarceration of criminal elements. It represents 15 different divisions devoted to promoting public safety and awareness through frequent updates on news and procedure. These include the divisions of the:

Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement

This division is largely responsible for regulating controlled substances like alcohol and activities that involved organized gambling and betting.

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

This division provides investigative and specialized law enforcement services in an attempt to prevent and solve crime. They do this in partnership with law enforcement, public safety and criminal justice agencies, and more. Common services of this division include criminal justice training and development, forensic and laboratory analysis.

Commissioner’s Office

This division oversees department staff, programming and initiatives. They are the branch that administers most of the DPS’s agencies. They also coordinate the functions and services of the state relating to safety and convenience of its citizens as outlined in Minnesota Statute, Chapter 299A.

Driver and Vehicle Services

Serving over 11 million customers every year, the Driver and Vehicle Services division provides services related to vehicle ownership, driver education and evaluation, licenses, state identification cards, disability services, Motor carrier and freight registration and tax collection, dealer licensing, salvage and reconstructed vehicle inspections, collection of crash data, and requests pertaining to vehicle, driver’s license, identification card, and crash record data.

Emergency Communication Networks

This department oversees the Statewide 911 Program, Allied Radio Matrix For Emergency Response Radio Communications Network, the Interoperability Program, Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems, and Statewide Wireless Broadband initiatives.

Fiscal and Administrative Services

This department is responsible for overseeing and managing fiscal and administrative reports and contacts. This includes State financial reporting, capital budgets, and requests for proposals, informal solicitations, and statement of work posting.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management

This division helps Minnesotans prevent, anticipate, respond to, and recover from disasters. They also work to keep Minnesota secure from acts of terrorism.

Human Resources

This division is responsible for assuring human resource programs and services for the DPS workforce.

Office of Communications

This department shares current events and news about DPS services with the public at large, and often feature brief video segments to achieve this.

Office of Justice Programs

This division provides leadership and resources in an effort to reduce crime, improve the functioning of the criminal justice system, and assist crime victims. This is done by providing training, technical assistance, research and data, protecting crime victims’ rights, and reparations to victims of violent crime. They also offer a transparent performance report.

Office of Pipeline Safety

This department inspects natural gas, propane, and hazardous liquid pipelines. They also investigate leaks and accidents in an effort to prevent future incidents. This is the office that enforces the “Call Before You Dig” laws.

Office of Traffic Safety

The Office of Traffic Safety was created in 1966 for the purpose of designing and implementing public education and traffic-law enforcement programs with the goal of reducing or preventing crashes, deaths, and injuries on Minnesota roads.

State Fire Marshal

The State Fire Marshal oversees statewide fire safety protocols and regulations. They are responsible for making sure buildings and roadways are up to code for maximum safety during a fire. They also offer seasonal tips for avoiding fire hazards.

State Patrol

Created in 1929, this division was created in response to the sudden rise in automobile ownership. Today there are nearly 600 state troopers enforcing the roadways of the state. They also investigate and reconstruct serious crashes, conduct flight patrols and perform search and rescue operations.


Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not use classes to define felonies and misdemeanors.

Law enforcement uses resources from the MJB and DPS to enforce laws, apprehend suspects, and detain criminal.

Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not use classes to define felonies and misdemeanors. Instead, each main felony is assigned a “severity level” that ranges from 11 to 1. Further felonies and misdemeanors are divided into A through H for sexually motivated crimes, and D9 to D1 for drug related crimes. For misdemeanors there are three categories, named, in order of descending severity, gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors. There is overlap between some of these designations.

minnpost.jpg The landmark 1931 case Near v. Minnesota involved utilization of the Minnesota Gag Law to silence a heavily bias newspaper that simultaneously contained some truth about organized crime. The case was appealed from the Minnesota Supreme Court to the Federal Supreme Court, where the ruling to gag the newspaper was found unconstitutional.