Bail requirement lifted for nearly 20 felony-level crimes in Hennepin County

Freeman also announced that his office is moving toward charging more people by summons instead of by warrant.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. (Hennepin County Attorney's Office/Facebook)

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that bail amounts will no longer be required for those charged with 19 different felony-level crimes after Jan. 1. Some of the crimes covered under the bail change include auto theft, identity theft and thefts valued under $35,000.

The announcement was made Wednesday via a virtual conference and was posted online late that afternoon. Freeman was joined by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Washington County Attorney Peter Orput.

Freeman said that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) has been researching and reviewing its internal policies and the use of cash bail throughout counties and jurisdictions across the United States.

Freeman said that the move to eliminate cash bail falls in line with initiatives from the HCAO to “strike a balance” between bail and public safety. Freeman specified that “we don’t want to clog up our jails with persons who are not a threat, so that we have the space and the money to hold violent offenders.”

Freeman also announced that his office is moving toward charging more people by summons instead of by warrant. This means that an alleged offender will receive a letter in the mail ordering them to appear at a hearing at a future date rather than having a warrant issued for their arrest.

Freeman touted the fact that the daily average population at Hennepin County Jail has been reduced by over 40% in the last few months. In mid-March the jail had a high population of 815 at one point. That number has now been reduced to the high 400s, Freeman said, calling it “major progress.”

Nineteen felonies were listed as no longer requiring a bail amount beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Freeman called the list “low level” crimes and non-dangerous offenses. Upon release on zero bail, the charged party promises to appear at all future court hearings and abide by any conditions set by the court while remaining free in the community, he said.

The 19 offenses no longer requiring a bail amount are:

  • Fifth-degree sale or possession of narcotics
  • Theft under $35,000
  • Theft of a motor vehicle
  • Forgery
  • Damage to property
  • Fraudulent identification or driver’s license
  • Possession of burglary/theft tools
  • Identity theft
  • Mail theft
  • Possession of stolen or counterfeit check
  • Possession of shoplifting gear
  • Dishonored check
  • Insurance fraud
  • Fourth-degree sale or possession of narcotics
  • Counterfeiting currency
  • Sales of simulated controlled substances
  • Wrongfully obtaining public assistance
  • Wrongfully obtaining unemployment benefits
  • Lottery fraud

Freeman said that his office will reserve the right to set bail amounts in “exceptional cases” if warranted. Examples given by Freeman included persons with other unresolved criminal matters or circumstances that would indicate a bond is necessary for public safety.

“We know that the individuals in a number of these crimes are disproportionately black,” Freeman said. “This change will reduce the disparity of who is sitting in county jail.”

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said in the video conference that cash bail and public safety “have nothing to do with each other.”

Orput provided an example of two people arrested on fourth degree DWI. Orput said that just because one person can afford bail, that wouldn’t necessarily keep the person from drinking and doesn’t make the public any safer, compared to the other person who can’t afford bail and “sits in jail for months.”

Attorney General Ellison said that the proposal to eliminate bail was “going in the right direction.” Ellison said that his office will be moving to have the conversation about bail elimination in counties across the state in order to have a “more fair, more just, more safe society.”

Both Ellison and Freeman said they hope the State Legislature will take up even larger bail reform measures in the next session. Freeman also referenced decriminalization measures he’s taken regarding certain narcotics crimes and mentioned Ellison’s recent criminal record expungement initiative.

Freeman said that he will continue to work with Ellison’s office on prosecutor-led reforms, and he indicated that the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association was working on initiatives to present to the Legislature in an upcoming session.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.