Someone facing criminal charges would be delighted to learn that the judge has agreed to dismiss their case. However, there are two ways a case can be dismissed, and they have potentially significantly different outcomes. Here’s what you need to know.
What Does Prejudice Mean in a Court Case?
When a judge decides to dismiss a case, they do it either with or without prejudice. In the context of criminal charges being brought before the court, “prejudice” stands for whether or not the court has made a final decision on the case. When the court has made a final, irrevocable decision to dismiss a case, it’s said to be dismissed with prejudice–meaning it’s dismissed as the final word and can’t be reopened.
Can a Criminal Case Be Refiled if it’s Been Dismissed?
This is where the legal terminology around case dismissals matters in terms of what happens after the dismissal. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, that’s good news–the case is dismissed, it can’t be refiled, and the person charged is now free. The prosecution can’t reopen the case.
In contrast, dismissed without prejudice means this particular court or judge has dismissed the case, but the prosecutor has the option to file again. So while the person charged may be temporarily free, they’re not guaranteed to remain that way.
What Causes a Case to Be Dismissed with Prejudice?
There are a number of reasons a case will be dismissed with prejudice, but often it comes down to errors in the arrest or prosecution that can’t be fixed. For example, if someone was subject to an illegal search or arrested without probable cause, that could be considered a violation of the charged person’s constitutional rights. Another situation that can lead to dismissal with prejudice is if the person charged with the crime successfully completes a diversion program.
Who Can Request a Case to Be Dismissed with Prejudice?
Technically, either the defense attorney or the prosecutor can request a case be dismissed with prejudice, but it’s rare for a prosecutor to do. Sometimes the court will decide without a request from the prosecutor or the defense attorney.
However, prosecutors will often request a case be dismissed without prejudice. One common reason is that the prosecution needs more time to uncover evidence in the case. They may feel they’d have a stronger case if they dismissed the case at that point and pick it up again later if they’re able to come up with more substantial evidence. Or they may have other charges against the person they’d rather pursue.
Regardless of the reason, one thing prosecutors have to watch is the statute of limitations for the crime charged. Once the statute of limitations expires, they can no longer refile the case. The limitations aren’t extended by the case being dismissed without prejudice.
Courts take the act of dismissal very seriously. There has to be sound legal reason behind the request. If you think there are reasons your case could potentially be dismissed, especially with prejudice, it’s highly recommended that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows what the court looks for and requires.
What Does “Double Jeopardy” Mean?
Legally, double jeopardy would happen if a person was tried twice for the same crime. This is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. However, if someone has been dismissed without prejudice, that doesn’t prevent charges from being refiled later. The person hasn’t gone through the full trial and conviction or acquittal, so it’s not double jeopardy. Nor is it double jeopardy if someone faces both civil and criminal charges for the same offense, or if they lost their first cause and appealed it to a higher court.
What Are Voluntary and Involuntary Dismissals?
Voluntary dismissal is something requested of the judge by the prosecution. There are numerous situations where this request applies, including the defendant (person charged with the crime) accepting a plea deal with the prosecution; a settlement or partial settlement has been reached; or the prosecution either isn’t ready for court proceedings or has decided that court proceedings aren’t the best approach. Voluntary dismissals can be done with or without prejudice, with the same ramifications discussed above. But given that this type of dismissal is requested by the prosecutor, they’ll likely want a voluntary dismissal without prejudice.
Involuntary dismissal is something a judge does against the wishes of the prosecution, sometimes at the request of the defendant (in the case of the latter, the prosecution is allowed time to respond to the defendant’s request). This too can be done with or without prejudice. Some situations that might lead to an involuntary dismissal include the defendant not having been served; the court not having the right personal jurisdiction, so they have no authority over the defendant; or the court doesn’t have the subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Charged with a Crime and Think My Case Should be Dismissed?
Call the SoCal Law Network at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. We can talk through your specific situation and the evidence available to see what defense could be used, including the possibility of asking the case to be dismissed if the evidence warrants it. Criminal charges are serious, and convictions often carry life-changing consequences. The sooner you bring SoCal Law Network onto the case, the more time we have to prepare your defense.