Reasons to Dismiss Criminal Charges
- A judge may dismiss a criminal case before trial.gavel image by Cora Reed from Fotolia.com
The basis of the judicial system does not consist merely of trials. Preliminary motions may be filed in criminal court to drop a case before it starts. The District Attorney may also decline to file the case in the first place. In the former situation, only the judge can rule for dismissal but the defense and prosecution usually play a significant role in influencing the decision. While every criminal case is unique, one may identify several common reasons for their dismissal.
Lack of Sufficient Evidence
- The District Attorney does not file cases simply based upon the existence of wrongdoing. They are concerned with prosecuting cases that have a high chance of securing a guilty verdict. After a criminal suspect is arrested, the police supply the D.A.'s office with evidence of the crime. If the law enforcement agency supplies compelling evidence such as DNA prints or a signed confession, the D.A. will decide to prosecute based upon the suspect's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, unreliable eyewitnesses or incarcerated criminals who want to exchange information for time off may not meet that standard. In some cases, an overzealous D.A. may file criminal charges anyway. If that happens, the defense attorney may ask for a pre-trial dismissal based upon the weakness of evidence.
Fourth Amendment Rights
- The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures." For example, a police officer cannot just enter your home, search for a marijuana cigarette and then proceed to arrest you. Nor can he install a hidden microphone in your office and wait for you to say something incriminating. For both of these situations, law enforcement must secure a search warrant from a judge in which there is probable cause that a crime has been or will be committed. Otherwise, any crimes that are discovered without judicial authorization are null and void. Although the Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of Fourth Amendment protections, an alarming number of illegal wiretaps have been employed by law enforcement agencies such as in the SIU unit of the NYPD during the 1970s, as chronicled in Robert Daley's book "Prince of the City."
- Miranda rights derive from the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, which involve the right to not incriminate oneself and the right to seek the assistance of counsel. You may already know the language from TV: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney ... " If the defense can prove that the suspect did not receive this statement before providing a confession or other incriminating evidence, an attorney has an excellent chance of having the criminal charge dismissed.
Dismissal with Prejudice
- Another common situation in criminal courts involves a dismissal with prejudice. If a judge suspects that a suspect is responsible for a crime but the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to reach a guilty verdict, the case may be dismissed with prejudice. In this situation, the D.A. may refile the case at a later time if more compelling evidence has been uncovered.