Potential New Guidelines that Would Cap Probation Sentences at Five Years
On January 9, 2020, the Minnesota Guidelines Commission approved guidelines that would cap probation sentences for most felony offenders at five years. Certain offenses, such as homicides, criminal sex offenses, and criminal vehicular homicide, would be exempt from the cap. There would be some exceptions for judges who can depart from the cap when public safety warrants a departure. These guidelines would put Minnesota in line with states like Iowa and Missouri, which already have five-year probation caps. However, the guidelines are not retroactive, so Minnesotans currently serving probation sentencing would not benefit from the new guidelines.
Still, advocates for the new guidelines consider the probation guidelines a “huge win” for Minnesota and believe the guidelines will even out disparate supervision sentences in Minnesota. Research done by policy experts at the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota show that very few felons commit new crimes after five years under supervision. Probation officers in Minnesota have argued that research does not support the notion that lengthy periods of probation increase public safety or reduce recidivism rates.
Opponents, including former state Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen, current Court of Appeals Judge Michelle Larkin, St. Paul Police Captain Salim Omari, and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, voiced their concern that Minnesota is rushing into a state sentencing law that could have detrimental consequences. Opponents are also worried the new guidelines would force judges to put more people behind bars rather than sentencing them to probation. State Representative Brian Johnson condemned the vote as a “major overreach” of the commission’s authority, as he stated, “It is the role of the Legislature and judiciary . . . to determine appropriate probation terms for heinous crimes[.]”
Unless the Legislature overrules the decision, the new guidelines will take effect on August 1, 2020.