Wondering how to evaluate your judges? Here’s how.
Ever wonder how to find information to evaluate the performance of judges in your district? Above are three statewide reports on judicial departures from the sentencing guidelines from the most recent years available.
The reports identify each judge by judicial district and list the number of departures from the sentencing guidelines each judge has made when sentencing defendants in criminal cases; they also list the number of cases each judge had in which a commitment to prison was recommended — a “presumptive commitment.”
Key terms to know:
- Dispositional departure: the disposition of sentence — either sentenced to prison or stayed sentence.
- Durational departure: a departure from the recommended length of sentence.
- “Aggravated” departure: an upward departure (stricter) in either disposition or duration of sentence.
- “Mitigated” departure: a downward departure (less strict) in either disposition or duration of the sentence
You can find your judicial district HERE.
A note from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission:
“A word of caution about departure rates by judge: departure rates can be affected by how many cases a judge sentences, the type of cases sentenced, and the criminal history score of the cases sentenced…. For example, a judge may have more cases with offense types more likely to receive a departure.”
Some facts on Minnesota’s judicial system:
- Minnesota district court judges are either appointed by the Governor or elected
- Each judge must stand for re-election in the first general election that is at least one year after his/her swearing-in date
- Judicial terms are six years
- Minnesota currently has 295 district court judges
Why this matters:
- 94 district court judges are up for election this year. 93 of those are running unopposed
- Minnesota district court judges have set three consecutive records (2018, 2019, 2020) for downward dispositional departures
- 2020’s rate of mitigated (downward) dispositional departure was 43.2% — an all-time high rate of departure from presumptive prison sentences
- Judges in district 6 (northeastern MN) led the state in downward departures, with 51.8% of presumptive prison commitments being stayed
- Judges in districts 2 and 4 (Ramsey Co. and Hennepin Co.) led the state in downward departures in 2020 from the recommended length of prison sentences at 42% and 42.7%, respectively (the remaining eight districts averaged downward durational departure in just 10.6% of cases)
This information is being shared to assist the public in becoming more informed about the performance of individual judges in their districts so that more informed election decisions can be made. The information is also important moving forward, as it may encourage more lawyers to contest sitting judges in future election cycles, giving the public more choice in the matter versus the lack of choice that currently exists in 2022.