Many of our clients come to us during the scariest moments of their lives. They've never been in trouble before, and now they are charged with a felony. A common question we are asked is, "Am I going to prison?" Unfortunately, we cannot tell anyone for certain how their case will resolve, but we do inform them of the possibilities.
In Minnesota, a felony case can resolve in several ways. The case could be dismissed, or it could end with an executed prison sentence. In between those two extremes are several options. We'll explain each option starting at one end of the spectrum, a dismissal, and proceeding all the way to the other end, where you become a "guest" of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
A dismissal is what it sounds like. All charges against you are dismissed and you are no longer facing legal consequences related to your felony charge.
Continuance for Dismissal (CFD)
A continuance for dismissal is also referred to as "suspending prosecution." The State doesn't dismiss the charges outright, but instead puts the case on hold and places you on probation without any conviction. You never enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you complete the probationary term successfully, all charges are dismissed. However, if you do not do well on probation, the State can resume its prosecution of you and the case starts up right where it left off.
Stay of Adjudication
A stay of adjudication is like a CFD in that you are placed on probation without any conviction. However, prior to being placed on probation you are required to enter a plea of guilty to the charge. Instead of entering the conviction against you, the judge instead takes that guilty plea and puts it up on a shelf. If you successfully complete probation, then, like in a continuance for dismissal, the charges against you are dismissed. But if you fail to complete probation, rather than the State having to restart the case against you like in a CFD, the judge already has your guilty plea and can simply enter conviction against you should that be appropriate.
Stay of Imposition
Like a stay of adjudication, a stay of imposition requires you to plead guilty to the offense. Unlike a stay of adjudication where the judge does not accept your guilty plea, here the judge does accept your guilty plea and enters a conviction against you. However, the judge does not impose a sentence. Instead, the judge places you on probation. If you successfully complete probation, your felony conviction drops down to a misdemeanor. It is important to note that while you are on probation, you are convicted of a felony. It's only after probation is over that your conviction is reduced to a misdemeanor.
Stay of Execution
Like the last two, a stay of execution requires you to plead guilty to the offense. Like the last one, the judge enters the conviction against you and places you on probation. Unlike the last one, the judge does impose a sentence. If you plead guilty to a felony, it will always be a felony. There is no reduction to a misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation. A stay of execution is your last stop before executing a jail or prison sentence.
An executed sentence is what it sounds like. You are committed to the Commissioner of Corrections (prison) for the length of your sentence.
Though confusing, you can see how with each step towards one extreme, incremental, but critical changes happen. You start out with no charge, then move to a charge with no plea, then to a plea with no conviction, then to a conviction but no sentence, then to a sentence but no execution, then to execution of a sentence.
Whatever your case, how it resolves can have an impact on the rest of your life. It could affect employment, housing, licensures, even the ability to serve on your kid's school board. With stakes this high, it's important that you make informed decisions. If you are facing felony charges, give us a call.