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Criminal Procedure in Federal & Minnesota Trial Courts

Last Updated 4/2009  Direct feedback on this page to lawlib@umn.edu.



Criminal procedural rules (also called court rules) prescribe what to do and how to do it when a crime occurs and someone is arrested, charged and brought before a court. These rules establish a uniform process to ensure that justice is administered fairly throughout federal, state, and local court systems. Separate sets of criminal procedural rules exist for each jurisdiction.


The rules of criminal procedure regulate the inquiry into whether a violation of the substantive criminal law has occurred and whether the person accused of the crime has actually committed it. Procedural rules are mandatory; both prosecution and defense must understand and abide by the relevant rules of criminal procedure. There are many tools to help attorneys comply with the procedural requirements for the fair administration of criminal justice.


This guide focuses on the rules of criminal procedure which govern in the United States District Court and in the Minnesota District Court, the trial courts for each jurisdiction.


Access to some of the electronic resources included in this research guide is restricted to University of Minnesota students; some electronic tiles are restricted to law students.



The origin of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure can be traced to 1940 when the Congress, through the Rules Enabling Act of 1940 (ch. 445, 54 Stat. 688 (1940), subsequently 18 U.S.C. §3771), delegated power to the U.S. Supreme Court to prescribe rules of “pleading, practice, and procedure with respect to proceedings in criminal cases prior to and including verdict, or finding or plea of guilty.” The Court appointed an Advisory Committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure and it prepared a Preliminary Draft and a Second Preliminary Draft in May 1943 and February 1944 respectively. The Rules of Criminal Procedure for the District Courts were adopted by order of the Supreme Court on December 26, 1944, transmitted to the Congress by the Attorney General on January 3, 1945, and became effective March 21, 1946.


Under a 1949 amendment to 18 U.S.C. §3771, the Chief Justice of the United States, instead of the Attorney General, reported the rules to Congress. In 1950, section 3771 was further amended so that amendments to the rules could be reported to Congress not later than May 1 each year and become effective 90 days after being reported. Effective December 1, 1988, section 3771 was repealed and supplanted by new sections 2072 and 2074 of Title 28, United States Code, as enacted by Title IV “Rules Enabling Act” of Pub. L. 100-802 (approved November 19, 1988, 102 Stat. 4648), effective December 1, 1988. The Criminal Rules have been amended several times since their initial adoption. The rules and any amendments to them are printed by the Congress as House Documents.


The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are organized along a time line, beginning with the filing of the complaint and proceeding through arrest, indictment, arraignment, trial, and post-conviction procedures. A subject index is included at the end of the rules.



The Advisory Committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure prepares a brief note for every rule or amendment when it is proposed. It is important always to read the Committee note at the end of each rule because the note provides an official explanation of the rule’s intent. Most publications of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure include the Advisory Committee note following each rule (e.g. United States Code, United States Code Annotated, United States Code Service discussed below). A few works provide a separate appendix with the text of all the committee notes (e.g. Wright and Miller’s Federal Practice and Procedure, v. 3C, Appendix C). Recent proposals to amend the rules and their notes can be found in Federal Rules Decisions discussed below.



The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are widely available in unannotated form. This form is a useful easy reference to check rule requirements or to verify citations to rules, but it does not provide helpful explanations or interpretations of the rules. “Deskbooks,” softbound volumes typically including all procedural rules related to practice in one jurisdiction, are heavily used by practitioners. Unannotated Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure also appear with statutory compilations or as supplements to treatises on criminal procedure.

  • Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (US DOCUMENTS Y4.J89/ 1-12:) Official annual compilation of the rules. Latest print version is 2003; current version is now available at www.uscourts.gov/rules/index.html. The rules are also available on the Internet at www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/.


  • Federal Criminal Code and Rules (RESERVE KF9606.99.F42) This annual “deskbook” includes the text of the rules, a summary of the Advisory Committee notes and historical notes, the text of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, as well as sections from other Titles relating to criminal procedure. A consolidated index is included.


  • United States Code 2006 ed. (RESERVE KF62 2006x). The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Advisory Committee notes appear in the volume containing Title 18.

Recent rule changes appear in supplementation to United States Code Service (PRIMARY KF62.1972.L38), United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (PRIMARY KF48.W45), and United States Supreme Court Reports (L.Ed.) (REPORTERS KF101.A313).



When an in-depth explanation of a rule is needed, it is useful to consult annotated versions of the rules. Annotations often provide detailed explanations for each rule. In some works, however, they consist only of brief citations to other sources containing explanations and judicial interpretations of the rules. The following treatises and encyclopedias on criminal procedure provide substantive annotations for the rules:


  • Federal Practice and Procedure [Wright & Miller]. (RESERVE KF8840.W74) This is a leading treatise on federal procedure, including criminal procedure. Rules are discussed in numerical order. Following the text of each rule, the authors provide authoritative commentary on the intent of the rule and how it has been applied. References to related cases and background sources are also provided. Unannotated rules appear in separate pamphlet volumes. This work is available electronically on Westlaw in the FPP database.


  • LaFave’s Criminal Procedure. 3rd ed. (RESERVE KF9619.L331 2007) This 7-volume treatise is an analysis of the law governing all the major steps in the criminal justice process, starting with investigation and ending with post-appeal collateral attacks. Tables include references within the treatise to federal and state statutes and federal and state rules of criminal procedure. This work also has a detailed index.


  • Moore’s Federal Practice. 3d ed. (RESERVE KF8820.A313M63) This work, like Federal Practice and Procedure above, provides a thorough and authoritative analysis of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, rule by rule. The text of each rule is followed by in-depth commentary and references to cases and further analysis. The work includes a detailed index. This source is also available on LexisNexis, the file name is MOORES.


  • Orfield’s Criminal Procedure under the Federal Rules. 2nd ed. (KF9619.O735 1985) This work, arranged in numerical order by Rule, presents the procedure under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The text of each Rule is followed by history, explanation, analysis, and case references. The work includes a detailed index and is available on Westlaw in the ORFIELDS database.

The following works do not themselves provide commentary but they do offer numerous references to commentary and to judicial interpretation of the rules.

  • United States Code Annotated. (PRIMARY KF62 1927 .W45; RESERVE KF62 1927 .W45) Separate volumes containing the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure follow Title 18 volumes. After each rule and its Advisory Committee notes, there are numerous references to case interpretations, journal articles, and books. The material found in this source is available on the Westlaw in the US-RULES database.


  • United States Code Service. (PRIMARY KF62 1972 .L38) The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are found in separate volumes at the end of this set. Each rule is followed by Advisory Committee notes and references to judicial opinions and secondary sources. The rules found in this source are available on LexisNexis (Federal Legal – U.S. > United States Code Service (USCS) > Federal Rules Annotated); the file name is RULES.



In addition to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, prosecution and defense must observe local procedural rules for individual federal courts. The focus of the following sources is civil rules, but they do also include local federal criminal rules:

  • Federal Local Court Rules. 3rd ed. (REPORTERS KF8820.A2xb) This source is arranged alphabetically by state. Under each state, unannotated local criminal rules are provided for each U.S. District Court.
  • Federal Procedure Rules Service. (KF8840.F43) This work provides local criminal rules for the various U.S. District Courts within the 8th Circuit.

Court rules deskbooks for individual states (e.g. Iowa Rules of Court—Federal) also contain any local criminal rules for the U.S. District Courts within that state.


Local federal criminal court rules are also available on LexisNexis (Legal > U.S. > Find Statutes, Administrative Materials & Court Rules > Court Rules > Federal Local Trial Court Rules Combined). On Westlaw the various state rule databases contain local federal district court rules for each state. On the internet, links to local federal rules are available within the individual state jurisdictions at http://www.llrx.com/courtrules.



The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the equitable administration of criminal justice have been objects of considerable interpretation by the federal courts. It is possible to locate cases interpreting the rules through the West’s Federal Digest and the Supreme Court Digest (under the topic “criminal law”). There are also a few titles that focus specifically on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

  • Federal Rules Decisions. While focused on and most often considered to report cases on the civil rules, this chronological reporter also reports cases on the criminal rules. Each cases contains the standard topics and keynumbers used in the West digests. In addition to cases, FRD includes articles and new and proposed rules along with Advisory Committee notes. It is indexed in Index to Legal Periodicals and LegalTrac. This work is available on Westlaw in the FRD database.


  • Shepard’s Federal Rule Citations. (REFERENCE KF8816.A23 S54). This citator is designed to provide references to federal cases and secondary sources which cite specific rules. It also documents changes to existing rules and is arranged by rule number.






To find other works containing the text of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, commentary about the rules or individual rules, or references to cases that interpret the rules, search MNCAT Discovery. The title search—federal rules of criminal procedure—is useful. Or, subject keyword searches for the aspect of the criminal rules you are researching will retrieve specialty treatises on that subject or rule. For example, grand jury will retrieve Federal Grand Jury: A Guide to Law and Practice, 2nd ed. (KF9642.B73 2006); habeas corpus will retrieve Federal Habeas Corpus Practice and Procedure, 5th ed. (KF9011.L54 2005); prosecution will retrieve Prosecutorial Misconduct, 2nd ed. (KF9640.G46). These focused treatises also include tables of criminal procedure rules with references to citations within the text.


Beginning in 1964 the American Bar Association created and implemented its Criminal Justice Standards Project. Addressing the full course of the administration of criminal justice including pretrial release, defense, prosecution, trial, pleas, sentencing, and appeals, the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice are now well into their third edition. The text of the standards is available at www.abanet.org/crimjust/standards/home.html. The Law Library owns print versions with commentary; to locate them search MNCAT Discovery under title: ABA Standards for Criminal Justice.



An excellent site containing links to nearly all court rules available on the internet is www.llrx.com/courtrules.


The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are also available at Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.



Following the lead of Congress, the Minnesota Legislature delegated power to the Minnesota Supreme Court to promulgate rules of criminal procedure for Minnesota courts. The Supreme Court appointed an advisory committee to prepare the rules which were first approved by the Court in 1975; the rules have been amended several times since then. The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure govern the procedure in prosecutions for felonies, gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors in the district courts in the State of Minnesota. Individual courts may also promulgate local criminal rules which are not in conflict with these rules or with the General Rules of Practice for the District Courts.



Few publications document the development of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure. Information about current rule revisions is discussed in Minnesota Lawyer (PERIODICALS .M593), Bench & Bar of Minnesota (PERIODICALS .B45), and in the advance sheets for West’s Northwestern Reporter, 2d (REPORTERS KF135.N71 2d).



Unannotated Rules



  • Minnesota Rules of Court. (RESERVE & REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5929.A193) This annual “deskbook” contains the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Rules of Juvenile Delinquency Procedure, as well as other court rules for Minnesota. It provides a subject index. This work is available on LexisNexis (Legal > States Legal – U.S. > Minnesota > Statutes & Regulations) and on Westlaw in the MN-RULES database.


  • Minnesota Statutes. (PRIMARY KFM5429.M56; RESERVE KFM5429.M56) The last volume of this set contains all of the court rules for Minnesota. This work is available on LexisNexis (Legal > States Legal – U.S. – Minnesota > Statutes and Regulations) and on Westlaw in the MN-ST database.


  • Court Rules - Minnesota Judicial Branch Web Site:  http://www.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=511
    Includes Rules of Criminal Procedure, Juvenile Procedure, Rules of Evidence and more.  Download in PDF or Word formats.


Annotated Rules


  • Minnesota Statutes Annotated. (PRIMARY KFM5429.M56; RESERVE KFM5429.M56) The criminal procedure rules are contained in a separate volume near the end of this set. Included after each rule are historical notes, references to law review and journal commentaries, and court interpretations. The Rules of Juvenile Delinquency Procedure are contained in another volume near the end of the set. This material is also available on Westlaw in the MN-ST-ANN database.


  • Juvenile Law and Practice. [Minnesota Practice, v. 12-13] (RESERVE & REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5480.M53) This work explains and analyzes the Rules of Juvenile Delinquency Procedure and is in order by rule number. It provides advisory committee notes, case annotations, and the authors’ (Robert Scott and John Sonsteng) commentary for each rule. It is also on Westlaw in the MNPRAC database.

Digests, Court Reports and Citators


The standard research tools used to find and update Minnesota case law can be used to find cases which interpret the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure.

  • West’s Minnesota Digest 2d. (REPORTERS KFM5445.A18 1988) Minnesota case law on criminal procedure is included in the CRIMINAL LAW topic or in the more specific procedural topics (e.g. ARREST, GRAND JURY, INDICTMENT & INFORMATION).


  • Dunnell Minnesota Digest. 5th ed. (REPORTERS KFM5457.D86 2001; REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5457.D86 2001) This encyclopedic work discusses the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure under the general heading CRIMINAL LAW. A separate subject index volume contains much more specific references to subtopics within the CRIMINAL LAW topic.


  • Shepard’s Minnesota Citations. (REFERENCE KFM5459.S5; REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5459.S5) The statute volume of this source includes references to cases which construe the criminal rules and indicates amendments made to each rule.

Additional Sources



  • Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges   (Prepared by Prof. Steve Simon, Univ. of Minnesota Law School)
    This e-Book, available on the web at http://ebenchbk.law.umn.edu, "is designed to allow judges to get a quick "answer" to issues that arise at or during trial."  The main topics covered include: Minnesota Criminal Law & Procedure; Jury Trial Guide: Pre-Trial thru Verdict; Judicial Training Updates; Evidence Issues, Trial Procedures and Practices from a Judge's Perspective.

To find additional works containing the text of or discussing the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, search MNCAT Discovery under the subject heading criminal procedure—minnesota.


Looseleaf Services, Texts, Periodicals

  • Criminal Law Reporter (BNA). reports significant developments, trends in, and interpretations of criminal law and enforcement. Available in print from 1967 (LOOSELEAF SERVICES KF9615.C74) and electronically with coverage since August 1996 in Mondale Hall and remotely to Law Students.



To obtain background information to help apply the criminal procedure rules, consult an in-depth treatise or a journal article. The MNCAT Discovery subject search, criminal procedure, followed by the geographic jurisdiction you are researching, will provide access to many texts. The results of this subject search include cross references to more specific topics and texts. Helpful general texts include:


  • Advanced Criminal Procedure in a Nutshell . [Cammack & Garland]. 2nd ed. (RESERVE KF9619.C36x 2006) This work provides a brief examination of the procedural aspects of a criminal case once the investigation is complete. It includes references to many cases and a rules table to help locate discussions of particular federal rules.
  • Criminal Procedure. [LaFave]. 3rd ed. (RESERVE KF9619.L331 2007) This set analyzes in seven volumes the law governing all the major steps in the criminal justice process, from investigation to post-appeal. It includes numerous case citations, and table refer to both federal and state codes and rules.
  • Criminal Law and Procedure. [McCarr, Nordby]. 3rd ed. (RESERVE & REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5480.M53). This work is a practical discussion of criminal proceedings in Minnesota. It refers to cases and rules of procedure throughout the text.
  • Wharton’s Criminal Procedure. [Hollander, Bergman, Stephenson]. 14th ed. (KF9619.W43x). The focus of this treatise is the development of procedural principles for criminal law particularly as reflected in federal case law.




Periodical articles often provide useful information on recent rule changes. LegalTrac or Index to Legal Periodicals & Books can be used to find such articles by keyword, subject, author, article title, popular names of statutes or cases, citations of case, rules and statutes. It is also possible to key in a specific procedural rule to find articles on that rule; use “rule” and the number of the rule in a keyword search. Periodicals particularly relevant to criminal procedure include:


  • American Journal of Criminal Law. (PERIODICALS .A63). Also available electronically via HeinOnline.
  • The Champion. Available electronically via LexisNexis Academic.
  • Criminal Justice. (PERIODICALS .C7542). Also via HeinOnline.
  • The Georgetown Law Journal…Annual Review of Criminal Procedure. (PERIODICALS .G45812). Also via HeinOnline.
  • The Prosecutor. (PERIODICALS .P79).