Latest judicial performance data — a look at sentencing departures in Minnesota


Minnesotans frequently ask Center of the American Experiment how they can find information to help evaluate the performance of judges in their district. Unfortunately, information on judicial performance is traditionally reported in aggregate data, with no identifying information to help the public evaluate how individual judges perform.

To assist with this evaluation, Center of the American Experiment has made public data requests to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) for statewide reports on judicial departures from the sentencing guidelines. These reports now cover 2018-2022 and can be accessed below.

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.

A note of caution when evaluating this data:

“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.”

Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission

This is an important note.  The departure rate alone does not tell the whole story of a judge’s individual performance, and there may be legitimate reasons why a particular judge has a high departure rate.  The information should be considered as one piece of a more comprehensive evaluation.    

Important terminology used in the reports can be found here.

  • Dispositional departures refer to the disposition of sentence — either sentenced to prison or stayed sentence.
  • Durational departures refer to a departure on the recommended length of sentence.
  • “Aggravated” departure is an upward departure in either disposition or duration of sentence.
  • “Mitigated” departure is a downward departure in either disposition or duration of the sentence.

Judicial Election Process

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 1 year after his/her swearing-in date. Judicial terms are 6 years.

Historically very few judges have faced opposition during their re-election process.

Find out more about the judicial selection and election process in Minnesota here

Departure Performance – Statewide

Per the MSGC, Minnesota district court judges 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.

The combined 2021-2022 percentage of mitigated dispositional departures remained near the record high at 42.3%.

As for durational departures, Districts 2 and 4 (Ramsey Co. and Hennepin Co.) continue to lead the state in downward departures from the recommended length of prison sentences.  The two metro counties accounted for 57% of the entire state total of downward durational departures from the sentencing guidelines.

Departure Reports by District and Judge

Sharing this data is an important step in ensuring the public has meaningful data with which to evaluate judicial performance in their districts. 

Find your judicial district here.