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Minnesota commission votes to cap most probation at 5 years



ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Probation sentences for most felony convictions in Minnesota would be capped at five years under a plan approved by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission on Thursday that’s aimed at providing more consistent sentencing across the state.

The commission passed the change on an 8-3 vote. Exceptions would apply for homicides and sex offenses. Unless the Legislature overrules their decision, the new guidelines automatically take effect Aug. 1, the Star Tribune reported.

“We are proposing a big change for Minnesota, but it’s not a big change nationally,” Commission Chair Kelly Lyn Mitchell said. “We are very much behind the curve of what modern probation should be.”

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell has long been an outspoken critic of the state’s probation terms, which are among the longest in the nation. They can span decades and vary widely across the state, depending on the judge.

Experts from the University of Minnesota Law School testified at a hearing last month that felons are most likely to reoffend in the first few years — and that very few commit new crimes after five years under supervision.

Judges will be allowed to exceed the five-year cap if they find special circumstances in which public safety warrants it.

The change would not be not retroactive, meaning that an estimated 50,000 Minnesotans currently serving felony probation sentences would not be affected.

Legislation to cap probation sentences has long been a priority among Democratic lawmakers but failed to pass in the 2020 session. Republicans promised to try to reverse the decision, but they hold a majority only in the Senate, while Democrats control the House.

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