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Assessing the grounds for dismissing charges

Being arrested, booked and imprisoned for criminal charges does not guarantee that a case will go to trial and result in a guilty verdict, and not all cases are decide through plea bargaining with the prosecution. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can highlight weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence or testimony to prompt a judge to dismiss charges even before trial is decided.

The following reasons are often cited in cases where charges were dismissed by the court:

  • The reasons cited for arrest are improbable and unsustainable.
  • The charging document is flawed and flouts legal procedures.
  • The Terry Stop (stop and search) did not conform to existing regulations.
  • The evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to prove the crime.
  • A witness crucial to proving the charges is not presented for testimony and cross examination.
  • Critical evidence necessary to prove the crime is not tabled in court.

The reasons cited for arrest are improbable and unsustainable

Probable cause is essential if police move to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. Mere suspicion is not justification for an arrest. There must be circumstantial evidence pointing to criminality to justify arrest. The police officer can arrest a person if his appearance matches the description made available by a reliable witness. Arresting a person merely because he happened to be at the scene of the crime, and proceeding with the arrest without eyewitness corroboration will amount to an arrest without probable cause.

The charging document is flawed and flouts legal procedures

The criminal charging document is signed by the police officer under oath and must be presented in a structured format conforming to existing laws and regulations. It is important that the document be prepared in an error free manner because there is no room for editing. If the person who originated the document is unavailable or has retired from service and flaws persist, the charges are liable to be dismissed.

The Terry Stop did not conform to laid down guidelines

The stoppage of a vehicle for any reason other than suspected criminal intention or a traffic violation is an illegal stop and search that infringes the defendant’s constitutional rights. Police can conduct search and seize operations only after obtaining a proper warrant issued by superior authorities. Searching a person suspected of carrying weapons or contraband is possible following arrest, and not before arrest. A search of a car can be carried out only if the driver has been arrested on suspicion of DUI or some other crime. Entering house without a warrant is possible only in special circumstances (shots fired without warning or a cry of help for example). If any shortcomings are observed in procedures, the evidence presented in court is liable to be dismissed.

The evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to prove the crime

It is of utmost importance that the prosecution presents sufficient evidence to prove the crime and involvement of the defendant. Merely listing their suspicions or presenting hearsay evidence does not make a case. The evidence must be factual and capable of being objectively assessed. The evidence must clearly and indisputably link the defendant to the crime, and it cannot be left to the jury or judge’s imagination to assess what could have happened. The onus is on the prosecution to prove charges beyond doubt so the evidence must be clinching proof of the crime or else the charges will not hold in court.

A witness crucial to proving the charges is not presented for testimony and cross examination/ evidence goes missing

The inability of the prosecution to present a crucial witness or table a piece of missing physical evidence will lead the court to conclude that charges could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. If a witness (considered crucial by the court) refuses to testify citing the Fifth Amendment (fear that he himself might be incriminated) the prosecution case gets weakened, and leads to dismissal of charges.

The refusal or inability of a key witness to identify the defendant is also ground for dismissal of charges. Also the lineup identification conducted by the police could be flawed.

It is not the role of the prosecution to secure conviction at all costs

Following an objective analysis of the extenuating circumstances in the case it is possible that the prosecution might agree to dismiss charges without prejudice, meaning that they are agreeable to drop charges provided the defendant remains on good behavior and is not rearrested for similar charges in the near future. Sometimes the charges initially listed as serious felonies might turn out to be minor misdemeanors warranting a more lenient view, and pursuing prolonged litigation might psychologically scar the defendant, and this could force the prosecution to drop charges. Alternatively, the prosecution might agree when a sexual assault victim, for example, requests for dropping charges as she feels a prolonged trial could do her more damage than the act itself.

Appellate courts

Defendants can pursue the appeal route in lost cases

Defendants that have lost cases in lower courts have been known to appeal judgments successfully in higher courts. Appellate courts have dismissed lower court judgments and ordered acquittals in some cases.

Reversing judgments that ignored procedural violations

It is possible that despite a wrongful stop and search procedure the court went on to hold a defendant guilty taking the evidence into consideration. Such judgments have been reversed by appellate courts on the grounds that the evidence was sourced from an improper search, and such evidence would not be admissible in court, other factors being in favor of the defendant.

Reversing judgments based on insufficient evidence

It is possible that the defense consumed by its anxiety to press for acquittal might not have focused on the fact that the evidence was insufficient to convict the defendant. In appeal a judgment could be reversed if that flaw is highlighted.

Reversing judgments that overstep jurisdiction

It is a well-known fact that federal and state courts are distinct sovereign entities operating within their specific jurisdictions, and sometime a court might overstep its jurisdiction and give a judgment that it has no cause to deliver. For example, if a federal trial court passes judgment on a property matter that falls within the purview of a state court, it is overstepping its jurisdiction and is liable to have its judgment reversed by the appellate court.

Arrest and preventive detention need not fuel apprehensions that all is lost and you face a long prison sentence. The experienced criminal defense lawyer would be ideally positioned to assess your case in totality and opine that circumstances exist that could open up avenues for pursuing dismissal of charges. Timely consultation and proper guidance has helped many defendants escape trial and its dreadful mental and material consequences.


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