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The Arrest and Charging Stage

When a law enforcement agency learns of potential criminal activity, either through a citizen complaint or through a direct encounter, and determines that an offense has occurred, there are a few options for how to proceed. There are two fundamental decisions to make:

  • whether or not to arrest the offender, and
  • what form of charging to use

For most lower level crimes, an offender is not arrested. There is a preference for release without bail unless there is reason to believe the defendent is a threat to public safety or will not appear in response to a citation. Note: In domestic abuse cases and some DWI cases, arrest is mandatory.

Charging Options
Citation Usually issued by a police officer.
Traffic tickets take this form. Most misdemeanors are charged by citation.
States the charge and may also include a short description of the offense.
Directs the accused to appear in court at a designated time and place.
Tab Charge A brief statement of the offense charged, including a reference to the statute allegedly violated entered into the record by the court clerk.
Used when time or other limitations preclude the drafting of a formal complaint.
Complaint A written signed statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged.
May be supplemented by supporting affidavits or sworn testimony of witnesses.
Drafted by prosecuting attorney.
Reviewed by judge for probable cause. (Probable cause is the existence of facts that would lead a person of reasonable intelligence and prudence to believe that a crime has been committed.)
The most common charging mechanism for serious crimes.
Grand Jury Indictment Must be used if the offense charged is punishable by life imprisonment.
May be used in other cases at the discretion of the prosecutor.
A grand jury is composed of 16 to 23 county residents who determine who should be charged with a criminal offense and who should not after reviewing relevant evidence.


If an offender is arrested and not ordered released by the prosecuting attorney or judge, the judge determines conditions of release and/or the amount of money bail. The Minnesota Constitution requires that bail be set for every offender who is not released (the federal system and some other states permit "preventive detention" in some cases). In addition to money bail, the court may set other conditions of release such as:

  • placing the person under the supervision of another person
  • placing restrictions on travel, association, or place of abode
  • requiring an offender to abstain from alcohol
  • requiring an offender to report periodically to a probation officer, or
  • requiring an offender to return to custody at night

October 2002