Understanding Minnesota’s New Geographic Law

Jul 31, 2017

Written by: Heidi Johnston, City of Minneapolis – City Attorney’s Office

The City of Minneapolis was successful in lobbying for and obtaining a new criminal offense in this last session of the legislature that will allow prosecutors to enforce geographic restrictions imposed by the court. A geographic restriction – an order to stay out of a specific geographic area – can be ordered by the courts as part of a criminal sentence or during a period of conditional release. Prosecutors will seek a geographic restriction when a defendant has a pattern of engaging in criminal conduct within that specific geographic area. In these cases, an order to keep out of the area where the defendant tends to reoffend helps the defendant stay law-abiding and helps provide relief for those who live, work, or visit that area. The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office only seeks geographic restrictions in a small number of cases involving chronic offenders, and only when the city has evidence that the offender has a pattern of committing new offenses within that specific geographic area. Each geographic area is carefully defined to respond to the concerns of the neighborhood residents and businesses, and to address the specific area of increased criminal behavior impacting the neighborhood. When a geographic restriction is imposed, the offender is served with a signed copy of the map, which includes a detailed map of the area from which the offender has been restricted and a definition of the area that the offender is not allowed to enter.

For years, prosecutors were able to hold defendants accountable for violating a geographic restriction as a criminal contempt of court, requiring defendants to appear in court. Then in 2014, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a decision which prevented the use of criminal contempt of court charges for violations of probation conditions, including violations of a geographic restriction order. This made it difficult to hold defendants accountable for violations of these orders.

The new legislation, effective August 1, creates a new offense dealing specifically with the issuance and enforcement of geographic restrictions. The new provision, set out in Minnesota Statute §609.6057, establishes a procedure for the court to conduct a hearing on the need for a geographic restriction and to impose a separate geographic restriction order in which a violation of the court order constitutes a misdemeanor. The courts look closely at the requests for these restrictions and must be satisfied that this is a reasonable request. Factors such as where the defendant lives or works are considered in the geographic restriction order. In fact, the court cannot impose a geographic restriction order if the offender lives in the area. A geographic restriction order is only proper when the state can show that an individual offender is a chronic offender within the predefined geographic area. A court will issue a geographic restriction order only after hearing from both the prosecution and defense counsel, and only when there is sufficient evidence that a geographic restriction is appropriate. To issue a geographic restriction, the court must consider the interests of protecting public safety and property against the interest of the offender to be in the area, and as a result, the court has the authority to grant any exception of the geographic restriction that it deems necessary. A violation of a court-ordered geographic restriction will be subject to a new criminal offense, and can be enforced through the courts.

As August 1 approaches, the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office is working to update all of our maps to comply with the new law. We are also working with the Hennepin County District Court to ensure that the court is prepared to conduct geographic restriction hearings that comply with the new law. In order to be enforced under the new law, the geographic restriction must be issued in a separate hearing, and the resulting geographic restriction order must clearly state that it is a geographic restriction order subject to enforcement. The new legislation does not allow for criminal enforcement for an offender with an existing geographic restriction, unless or until the offender is afforded a separate hearing in which the court concludes that the geographic restriction will serve the interests of protecting public safety or property, that the offender has been sufficiently advised of the area, and that the offender is aware that a violation of the order is a crime.

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