Are sentences unusually light for gun crime in Hennepin County?

A battle seems to be brewing between Hennepin County judges and public officials. The controversy surrounds what is a perceived leniency when it comes to gun crime. One public official in particular believes that county judges are ignoring the state's sentencing guidelines.

Citing data from 2012, the Minneapolis City Council President says that judges in Hennepin County fail to follow the sentencing guidelines for gun crimes by sentencing offenders to less than the statutes call for more than half the time. She goes on to say that statewide, the guidelines are supplanted an average of only about 24.9 percent of the time. At least one judge equates her protestations to political rhetoric, and says she does not have the full picture.

No two criminal cases are the same, and the facts and circumstances regarding each one need to be taken into consideration. By the time many cases end up in a judge's courtroom, the accused individual's criminal defense counsel and prosecutors have already brokered a plea bargain. Full dockets and ever-increasing caseloads mean that judges are not often going to second-guess the agreements. Moreover, there may be no reason to second-guess the judgment of prosecutors and criminal defense counsel who have vetted the options in a particular case.

The totality of the circumstances and facts need to be considered, not simply whether a weapon was present during the commission of an alleged crime. The judicial system in the United States is designed to allow judges the discretion to adjust an individual's sentence based on his or her experience, the facts and circumstances of the case and other relevant factors. Therefore, when someone is accused of a gun crime – or any other crime for that matter -- he or she can rest assured that his or her case will be reviewed independently and not compared to an unrelated incident.

Source:, "Hennepin County Judges accused of being soft on crime", Aaron J. Lagoe, July 9, 2014

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