In July 2016, two protesters at the Republican National Convention were arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer. Fourteen months later, the case against them was dismissed in what their attorney called “a victory for free speech.”
During the summer of 2017, an animal-abuse case against a horse-drawn carriage owner was dismissed when the key witness failed to appear in court. The case started because of a viral photo of a horse that looked unnaturally thin allegedly due to poor nutrition and neglect.
While these hearings are well known, their common outcome—a dismissal—is rare.
The truth is, judges rarely dismiss criminal cases. When they do, however, it’s usually for one of four reasons: plea bargaining, mistakes made by law enforcement or a solicitor, request of the solicitor, or pretrial motion.
To learn whether any of these grounds apply specifically to your case, you must talk to a criminal defense lawyer.
1. Plea bargaining
Over 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, otherwise known as agreements between the solicitor and the defendant’s defense attorney. Through these agreements the solicitor can dismiss criminal charges in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser charge with a lower sentence, or negotiate for more lenient sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea.
2. Mistakes made by law enforcement or solicitor
No one is perfect, police officers and solicitors included. When law enforcement officers or lawyers for the prosecution make mistakes, their missteps can result in the dismissal of criminal cases.
Let’s look into those possible mistakes.
No probable cause to arrest
Police officers can’t just arrest on a whim; they must have probable cause to arrest a suspect. For instance, eye witness accounts can lead an officer to reasonably believe that a particular individual committed the crime in question.
If proven that an officer arrested a person on a “gut feeling” rather than sufficient evidence, then the charges could be dismissed.
Mistake in criminal complaint
After an arrest, the officer must write a criminal complaint or charging document. The officer signs the document under oath, swearing that the contents are truthful and accurate.
When a criminal complaint document contains an error or omission, the solicitor must find the officer who originally wrote the complaint, and the officer has to make any necessary changes. In most cases, correcting this type of mistake is simple.
However, since only the original author of the complaint can make changes, if the officer has retired, moved away, or is unavailable, then the solicitor may have no choice but to dismiss the case.
Illegal stop or search
Any evidence the police obtain through an illegal stop or search can’t be used against you in a criminal case. For example, if you’re pulled over due to racial profiling and the officer searches your car, any evidence of a crime they may find is inadmissible in court. If no additional evidence exists in the case against you, a dismissal may result.
A grand jury or judge may find that there’s not sufficient evidence for a case to go to trial, either because the evidence that has been presented is inadmissible or there’s simply not enough evidence to support a case. Regardless of the reason, insufficient evidence can lead to the dismissal of a case.
3. By choice of the solicitor
The solicitor can choose to dismiss cases, but it’s usually not in the state’s interest to do so. So why would a solicitor decide to dismiss a case?
Unavailable witness or lost evidence
When a key witness can’t testify, or crucial evidence gets lost, the prosecution may not have enough evidence to bring a case against the defendant.
The solicitor can choose to dismiss a case for any number of reasons. Weak evidence could lead to a loss at trial, so the solicitor might dismiss the case rather than lose.
If the defendant is facing minor charges, especially if he or she is a first-time offender with a clean criminal record, a solicitor may move for dismissal. Solicitors often dismiss charges without prejudice, which allows them to re-file the charges if the defendant commits another crime within a given period.
Additionally, the victim of a crime can request a dismissal, although the solicitor has the final say on whether to dismiss a case or not.
4. Pretrial motion to dismiss
Defendants can work with criminal defense attorneys to attempt to get a case dismissed before the trial ever happens by filing a pretrial motion to dismiss. Let’s dig deeper into the reason a pretrial motion is raised.
Violation of defendant’s right to a speedy trial
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a “speedy and public trial.” If a defendant’s case doesn’t go to trial within a reasonable amount of time, the defense can move for a dismissal.
Violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy
Double jeopardy laws protect a defendant from facing charges for a particular crime more than once. If a defendant has already been acquitted of a crime, he or she can’t be prosecuted again for the same offense.
As legal representatives of the state, solicitors must conduct themselves professionally. When a solicitor exhibits inappropriate behavior that could impact the outcome of a case, there’s a chance the case could be dismissed. For a dismissal to occur, outrageous misconduct on the solicitor’s part is required, such as eavesdropping on a privileged conversation between a defendant and his or her attorney.
Find out if your case could be dismissed.
When you’re facing criminal charges, you need all of your options for moving forward on the table. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can analyze the facts of your case and help you figure out if there are grounds for dismissal.
Set up a free, in person consultation to get some answers about your case. Fill out this form or call our office at 803-808-0905.