- Minnesota has abolished the death penalty. Minnesota also abolished discretionary parole in 1980.
- Minnesota allows for mandatory LWOP and JLWOP. See Minn. Stat. § 609.106 (2012). (Minnesota calls LWOP “life in prison without the possibility of release,” or LWOR).
- Juveniles may be transferred to adult court at age 14. See Minn. Stat. § 260B.125 (2012).
Minn. Const., Art. I, § 5 (2012) No excessive bail or unusual punishments. -- Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.
NOTE: Article I, Section 5 is technically broader than the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment, while Section 5 prohibits “cruel or unusual” punishment. Nevertheless, in regards to proportionality challenges, Minnesota courts borrow from federal precedent.
- Sentencing Guidelines System – Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines -- The guidelines require sentencing worksheets to be filled out, and departures from the guideline sentence are permitted only for compelling circumstances. Judges must disclose the reasons for any departure, and the defendant may appeal the departure. The Minnesota guidelines can be found here: https://mn.gov/sentencing-guidelines/assets/2012-Sentencing%20Guidelines_tcm30-31252.pdf
- Habitual Offender Statute – Minn. Stat. § 609.1095(2012) -- 609.1095 INCREASED SENTENCES FOR CERTAIN DANGEROUS AND REPEAT FELONY OFFENDERS
Minnesota’s legislature has the power to determine criminal offenses and their punishments through statutes. Karius v. State, 2003 Minn. App. LEXIS 1230, 11-12 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 2003).
Statutes are presumed constitutional, and therefore, the party who challenges the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of “showing that our culture and laws emphatically and well nigh universally reject the sentence” imposed by the statute. State v. McDaniel, 777 N.W.2d 739, 753 (Minn. 2010) (quoting State v. Chambers, 589 N.W.2d 466, 479-80 (Minn. 1999); State v. Heden, 719 N.W.2d 689, 698 (Minn. 2006); State v. Pedersen, 679 N.W.2d 368, 377-378 (Minn. Ct. App. 2004); State v. Gutierrez, 667 N.W.2d 426, 438 (Minn. 2003).
State Constitution & Proportionality
The courts should not disturb the acts of the legislature unless the proscribed punishment is “out of all proportion to the crime so as to constitute a violation of the constitutional proscription against cruel and inhuman punishment.” State v. Christie, 506 N.W.2d 293, 299-300 (Minn. 1993).
Ordinarily, cruel punishment refers to mental and physical agony, or a punishment sentence of such duration that it is out of all proportion to the nature of the crime. State v. Christie, 506 N.W.2d 293, 299-300 (Minn. 1993).
Article 1 of the Minnesota Constitution prohibits "cruel or unusual punishments." Minn. Const. art. I, § 5. The language differs from the United States Constitution provision, which provides that no "cruel and unusual punishments" should be inflicted. U.S. Const. amend. VIII (emphasis added). We have explained that "[t]his difference is not trivial," and the Minnesota Constitution provides more protection than the U.S. Constitution. State v. Mitchell, 577 N.W.2d 481, 488 (Minn. 1998).
Article 1, Section 5 of the Minnesota Constitution prohibits “cruel or unusual punishments,” while the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” This difference is not trivial. The “Minnesota Constitution provides more protection than the U.S. Constitution.” State v. McDaniel, 777 N.W.2d 739, 753 (Minn. 2010) (citing State v. Mitchell, 577 N.W.2d 481, 488 (Minn. 1998)). Under Article I, Section “a court should prohibit a punishment if it is either cruel or unusual.” State v. Martin, 773 N.W.2d 89, 98-99 (Minn. 2009) (citing State v. Mitchell, 577 N.W.2d 481, 488 (Minn. 1998)) (emphasis added).
“Although the clauses are different, we rely on the United States Supreme Court's construction of the Eighth Amendment to guide our interpretation of Article 1, Section 5, of the Minnesota Constitution.” State v. McDaniel, 777 N.W.2d 739, 753 (Minn. 2010).
When determining whether a sentence is cruel or unusual, Minnesota courts look to the proportionality of the offense to the punishment issued. State v. McDaniel, 777 N.W.2d 739, 753-754 (Minn. 2010). A court determines whether the punishment comports with “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Id. (citing Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958).
Compare with seemingly contradictory older case law:
- Karius v. State, 2003 Minn. App. LEXIS 1230, (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 2003) – “Although the Minnesota Supreme Court has not applied the comparable clause of the Minnesota Constitution to guarantee proportionality in sentencing, the court has indicated that any application would also focus on proportionality for which the threshold would be high.“ Id. at 11-12 (citations removed).
- State v. Christie, 506 N.W.2d 293, (Minn. 1993) – The Minnesota Supreme Court “has never tied the ‘cruel or unusual punishments’ clause to a guarantee of proportionality in sentencing.” Id. at 299-300.
We do not believe the guidelines were meant to function as constitutional mandates. The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines were not “meant to function as constitutional mandates.” State v. Christie, 506 N.W.2d 293, 299-300 (Minn. 1993).
Continue reading below
This is a sponsored ad
Manage Your Law Firm All in One Place
In “cruel or unusual” reviews of sentences, the court does not differentiate between offenders who were principal actors and those who were aiders and abettors where criminal intent is present. State v. McDaniel, 777 N.W.2d 739, 754 (Minn. 2010) (citing State v. Crow, 730 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2007).
When courts sentence offenders convicted under habitual offender statutes, they must punish the criminal behavior in light of the offenders past behavior. See State v. Combs, 504 N.W.2d 248, 252 (Minn. Ct. App. 1993).
A sentence of LWOR is not per se unconstitutional for a 17-year old juvenile defendant convicted of murder. State v. Martin, 773 N.W.2d 89, 99 (Minn. 2009).
Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller
Chambers v. State, 831 N.W.2d 311 (Minn. May 7, 2013) (Graham does not apply to juvenile offender convicted of first degree murder; Miller does not apply retroactively because it's a new procedural rule and not subject to the watershed exception) (Dissent: Miller is substantive in nature.)
Continue reading below
A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence: A Trial Practice Handbook for Criminal Defense Attorneys
This Guide to Federal Evidence is the only federal evidence handbook written exclusively for criminal defense lawyers. The Guide analyzes each Federal Rule of Evidence and outlines the main evidentiary issues that confront criminal defense lawyers. It also summarizes countless defense favorable cases and provides tips on how to avoid common evidentiary pitfalls. The Guide contains multiple user-friendly flowcharts aimed at helping the criminal defense lawyer tackle evidence problems. A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence is an indispensable tool in preparing a case for trial.
Modern Digital Evidence & Technologies in Criminal Cases
Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook. This program is a contemporary training that identifies emerging technologies and digital evidence encountered in today's criminal cases and arms you with the tools necessary to combat expert witnesses, prosecutorial overreach, and an uneducated judge and jury. This comprehensive CLE program covers both general aspects of new technologies as well as practical courtroom application and legal challenges to the use of these new technologies.
Top Shelf DUI Defenses: The Law, The Science, The Techniques (2021)
If you are serious about being an effective DUI defense advocate, or if you’re considering adding DUI defenses to your portfolio, you need to know the latest scientific and legal strategies to optimize your success at trial. Learn from the best-of-the-best in the field in this unique CLE Program, updated for 2021.
Defending Modern Drug Cases (2021)
From challenging the arrest and seizure to picking a jury and cross-examining police officers, defense attorneys handling drug cases must be able to construct a defense that will increase the chances of the client getting a positive result for your client.
Effective motion practice, juror selection, and storytelling have never been more important. This seminar will introduce defense counsel to techniques that have been used at recent drug trials to rebut specific claims and overcome the emotion created in today’s criminal legal system.
Roman Nose v. State, 845 N.W.2d 193 (Minn. April 16, 2014) (follows Chambers and hold Miller does not apply retroactively)
State v. Vang, 847 N.W.2d 248 (Minn. May 7, 2014) (sentence of LWOP 30 years to juvenile does not violate Eighth Amendment.)
Ouk v. State, 847 N.W.2d 698 (Minn. June 11, 2014) (sentence of LWOP 30 years to juvenile does not violate Eighth Amendment.)