All legal matters filed in the criminal justice system are broadly
classified as c
ivil or criminal.
Civil cases are usually disputes between private citizens, corporations,
governmental bodies or other organizations. They may involve
property or personal rights.
In a civil action, decisions are based upon a preponderance
of evidence. This means that the party bringing the action
must prove his or her case by presenting evidence that is more
convincing to the judge or jury than the opposing evidence.
Criminal cases are brought by the government against individuals
or corporations accused of committing a crime. The government
makes the charge because a crime is considered an act against
society. The prosecuting attorney prosecutes the charge against
the accused person (defendant) on behalf of the government (plaintiff).
In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove that the defendant
is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
There are two major classifications of crimes: felonies and
misdemeanors. The more serious crimes are called felonies
and are punishable
by confinement in a state prison.
Lesser offenses are called misdemeanors. There are three types
of misdemeanors, depending on the seriousness of the crime. These
offenses are punishable by confinement in a local jail and/or
payment of a fine. They are gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors,
The government has the burden of proving the defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant does not have to prove
The Role of Law Enforcement in Homicide Investigations
When a homicide has been committed, law enforcement will be
the first people involved. A lead investigator is then assigned
each case. This investigating officer’s job is to gather
evidence and to try to find out that committed the crime.
Until a suspect has been charged with the homicide, the best
way for you to get information about the case is to contact a
Services advocate or someone from Parents of Murdered Children,
Inc. (POMC) who will assist you in communicating with the investigator.
During the investigation of the case, you may have questions,
Who is the main suspect?
Police will not release information on suspects during an investigation – in
When can I have access to the crime scene?
Police will install their own locks and yellow crime scene
tape to certain areas. These will not be removed until the
is complete. This is to make sure that the crime scene is not
disrupted or evidence destroyed.
When can I get
back the victim’s property or clothing?
Police will probably keep most items until they determine if
it is needed evidence. Later on, they may decide that some property
has nothing to do with the crime and will release the items.
property may never be returned if a case has not been solved.
The best way to find out is to call the investigating officer.
Will the police need to talk to me?
The police will probably ask about the victim’s friends,
enemies, family, business partners, and others. They may also ask
questions that may seem strange to you. If you don’t understand
why someone is asking a question, ask him or her to explain it
What if I am receiving harassing phone calls from strangers
or the suspects?
Call the police and report the harassment. Refer to the homicide
investigation being done so law enforcement can respond appropriately.
Can I see photographs of the crime scene and police reports?
You have the right to see reports at the appropriate time
during an investigation. Doing this can sometimes interfere
investigation, so you might be told you cannot see the photos
until later. Remember,
the detectives who investigate a homicide case may have legitimate
reasons for withholding information from you.
The Role of the Prosecutor
What does the prosecutor do?
The prosecutor is a public official who conducts criminal prosecutions
in court on behalf of the state.
After law enforcement finishes their investigation, they give
their reports to the prosecutor. The prosecutor then considers
the evidence and decides how to handle the case. The prosecutor
has four options:
- To charge the suspect or suspects with
- To decline to charge the suspect(s).
- To defer the decision until more information is received
from further investigation.
- To present the case to the Grand Jury (see below).
The prosecutor can answer questions about the legal proceedings
for you and explain
what the legal codes mean.
How long will the case last?
Although each case is different, you should prepare yourself and your family
for a long process.
For example, even if the police catch a suspect right away, the prosecution
of the suspect might take up to a year or more. All homicide convictions are
appealed by the defense and this can also delay the end of t
Many survivors often feel like they are forced to relive the loss of their
during this time.
What does the Grand Jury do?
The Grand Jury is a group of up to 23 citizens who make the
decision to charge (“indict”) a suspect or suspects in certain cases. According to
the law in Minnesota, an indictment from the Grand Jury is necessary to prosecute
all first degree murder cases.
The Grand Jury will hear evidence, ask questions, and decide:
- To indict (charge) the suspect/s for murder
in the first degree,
- To indict for a lesser charge (murder in the second degree,
murder in the third degree),
- To not indict at all
All Grand Jury hearings are closed to the public. Only
the Grand Jury members, prosecutors, and witnesses
are allowed to attend. In order to have an indictment,
a majority (12 people) of the Grand Jury must vote for it.
Although family members or significant others may be called
to testify before the Grand Jury, all testimony is secret,
and no one is allowed
to the proceedings.
The Role of the Medical Examiner
Law Enforcement and the Medical Examiner’s Office share
the responsibility of notifying next of kin. Either one may
contact you first.
The Medical Examiner’s
job is to:
- determine the identity of the homicide
- contact the next of kin
- investigate the death
- certify the cause of death
Viewing the Body
You have the right to view the body of your loved one. Every
family deals with their grief in different ways and this
may or may not be important to you. You
can request photos to be held until you feel you are ready to see them. You
and your family do not have to view the body at all, except
for identification purposes.
This is a personal choice.
Articles of clothing and personal items may be considered evidence and may
not be available to you until after an investigation is completed. When an
lasts a long time or remains unsolved, personal items may not be returned immediately.
Hospitals may also have some personal items that belonged to your loved one – check
with them right away to claim them.
The Medical Examiner’s Office will not release any medical reports to you.
They will only release them to the County Attorney’s Office. If you have
questions, you should contact the investigating officer or the victim advocate
handling your case.
The length of time it takes to get a death certificate may depend on the investigation.
It should take about 3 to 4 weeks to get copies of a death certificate. There
is a cost for each copy. Contact the county office in which the death occurred
for copies of the certificate.
151 SE 4th St.
Rochester, MN 55904
Mantorville, MN 55955
Preston, MN 55965
Dealing with the Media
- You have the right to
say “no” to an interview.
- You have the right to select the spokesperson or advocate of your
- You have the right to select the time and location of all interviews.
- You have the right to request a specific reporter.
- You have the right to release a written statement through a spokesperson
instead of having an interview.
- You have the right to exclude children from interviews.
- You have the right to refuse to answer any questions that make
you uncomfortable or any questions you think are inappropriate.
- You have the right to know the direction the story will take, before
the story about the victim and your family is reported.
- You have the right to review how you are quoted in the story, before
the story is reported.
- You have the right to refuse to attend a press conference. You
may choose to speak to one reporter at a time, or to not speak
- You have the right to have a correction published when inaccurate
information is reported.
- You have the right to ask to omit from publication or broadcast
any photographs, videotape, or statements that you find offensive
- You have the right to keep your photograph out of publication.
You also have the right to have your videotaped image distorted
electronically, to maintain your privacy.
- You have the right to have photos returned when given to the press
to use. Make sure you get the name of the reporter and his/her
assurance your photo will be returned.
- You have the right to completely give your side of the story.
- You have the right to file a formal complaint against any r
- You have the right to grieve in privacy.
- You have the right at all times to be treated with dignity and
respect by the media.
« back to top