Trials are not inevitable when you’ve been charged with a crime. In fact, more than 97% of state and federal criminal cases will never make it to trial. Many are resolved with plea deals before the case heads to court. About 8% will be dismissed by prosecutors.
Undoubtedly, the dismissal of a case is an extremely favorable outcome for the defense. It eliminates the need for trial and the possibility of conviction, prison, crippling fines, and other penalties. It can also go a long way towards preserving relationships, reputations, time, and money.
Of course, a defense lawyer can never make a prosecutor dismiss a criminal case. Instead, a good defense attorney can present the facts prosecutors need to see in order to come to their own decision to dismiss the case.
Here’s how the best criminal defense lawyers do that and what you need to know about dismissals if you or a loved one is ever accused of a crime in Michigan.
3 Essential Facts About Criminal Case Dismissals
Dismissals of criminal cases can come in three forms. Specifically, a case can be:
- Dismissed with prejudice: This means a case has been permanently dismissed and a prosecutor cannot refile the charges at a later date. This type of dismissal is handed down by a judge, and it does not prevent prosecutors from filing different charges (related to the same alleged offense) in the future.
- Dismissed without prejudice: Temporary in nature, dismissals without prejudice do let prosecutors refile the same charges in the future. While the statute of limitations will still apply to the charges and case in question, these dismissals may be sought out by prosecutors when they want or need more time to investigate and craft their case.
- Voluntarily dismissed: This occurs when the prosecution decides not to bring the case to court. Sometimes, a prosecutor may do this for strategic reasons, like to maintain the option of filing additional charges later. It’s also common for the prosecution to dismiss weak cases and never attempt to re-prosecute them.
Focusing on voluntary dismissals, the following facts shed more light on when and why prosecutors may choose to dismiss a misdemeanor, felony, or federal criminal case in Michigan.
1. Some cases have inherent grounds for dismissal.
At nearly every phase of a criminal case, there are specific procedures that need to be followed. From arrests and interrogations to witness questioning, evidence preservation, and beyond, specific rules are in place to:
- Uphold the rights of the accused: This includes the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and other Miranda rights. When the rights of an accused individual are violated, any evidence collected through that violation can be deemed inadmissible. Some examples include confessions made under coercion or after the accused has asked for a lawyer.
- Maintain the integrity of the case: An unbiased, thorough investigation and reliable evidence are crucial to building the prosecution’s case. Without these cornerstones, there may not be sufficient grounds to support criminal charges. For instance, a prosecutor’s case can be seriously undermined when it’s based on contaminated forensic evidence or investigations that ignore other viable suspects.
When police and/or others involved don’t follow the proper procedures—or when the rights of the accused have been violated—the investigation and evidence may be discredited enough to let all the air out of the prosecution’s case.
2. The defendant’s character matters.
When there’s no clear-cut reason for prosecutors to dismiss a criminal case, the character of the accused individual can play a big role in how prosecutors lean when it comes to dismissals.
There are a few different reasons for this:
- Prosecutors do not want to put a dangerous person back on the streets: Will the accused individual commit new crimes or hurt anyone if the case is dismissed? The more the prosecutor can see a defendant as a good person who isn’t a threat or danger to the public, the more open they may be to dismissing a case.
- They have to look out for their professional reputation: Will dismissing a case make the prosecutor look weak or emotional? If a prosecutor’s reputation could suffer by dismissing the case, they’ll be far more likely to take the case to court.
3. The weaker the prosecution’s case appears, the more likely a dismissal may be.
When it’s time to bring a criminal case to trial, the prosecution can have a much more difficult job than the defense. The reason is that prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused person committed the crime(s) in a given case.
On the other hand, the defense only needs to establish reasonable doubt. A defense case does not need to prove innocence—it just needs to show that it’s possible that:
- Someone else, not the defendant, committed the crime.
- The offense was the result of an accident or noncriminal activity.
- The offense was an act of self-defense.
There are several ways a defense lawyer can establish reasonable doubt and dilute the prosecution’s case. Generally, the strategies for doing this are focused on showing that:
- The evidence is inadequate, unreliable, or contaminated: For example, testimony for unreliable witnesses or conflicting statements from the same witness can undercut the credibility of any evidence these parties provide.
- There are holes or assumptions in the prosecution’s arguments: For instance, uncorroborated circumstantial evidence may be interpreted in ways other than what a prosecutor is arguing.
If prosecutors have little to no chance of obtaining a conviction, they are going to be far less likely to want to stake taxpayer dollars, their time, and their reputation on a losing battle in court.
2 Key Ways a Defense Lawyer Can Help Get a Case Dismissed
Although dismissals may be a viable option in some cases, it usually takes some convincing to achieve this outcome. And that is where experienced defense attorneys can make a big difference for the accused. Pivotally, the right defense lawyer can do these two crucial things.
1. Defense lawyers can identify the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
With a critical eye and deep knowledge of criminal law and procedures, a defense attorney can determine if or when mistakes may have been made during the investigation, arrest, or after. This can involve analyzing things like (but not limited to):
- Police reports: These can hold details about how a crime scene was secured, where evidence was discovered, and much more.
- Lab results: This type of evidence may offer clues about whether lab findings were accurate, based on how samples were held and analyzed, for example. Even technical details, like machine calibration records and margins of error, can be helpful in some cases.
- Witness statements: These statements may bring new evidence to light. They may also directly counter the prosecution’s evidence.
- The crime scene: Whether this is done at the actual scene or through crime scene photos, there may be additional evidence from the scene that can be used to poke holes in a prosecutor’s case.
- Sometimes, a combination of evidentiary and/or procedural problems may be at play. A skilled lawyer can be integral to discovering all of the major problems with the prosecution’s case to show how weak it is before trial. In some cases, that can motivate prosecutors to voluntarily dismiss the charges.
2. They can showcase the defendant’s good character.
Prosecutors can have obscene caseloads, and they may never meet a defendant before seeing them in court. An experienced defense lawyer can bring the defendant to life for the prosecutor, making the accused a person, not a case number, in the prosecutor’s eyes.
This may be achieved by demonstrating character, values, achievements, and aspirations. Photos, videos, and character statements can also do a lot to show good character.
When prosecutors don’t see defendants as career criminals or public safety threats, they may be more inclined to dismiss their more tenuous or weaker cases.
Does My Criminal Case Qualify for a Dismissal? Find Out Now
If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges in Michigan, the best way to get an answer to this question is by contacting East Lansing Criminal Defense Lawyer Patrick William O’Keefe. The truth is that:
- Police and prosecutors are working against you: The longer you don’t have an experienced defense lawyer in your corner, the more vulnerable you may be when it’s time to face criminal charges in court.
- You can only clear your name by winning: Whether winning means a dismissal, an acquittal, or some other outcome, the attorney you retain can make all the difference in the efficacy of your defense and the outcome of your case.
At O’Keefe Law, we don’t just fight for shorter sentences. We aim for the best possible resolutions, including dismissals and acquittals.
Call 517-273-0421 or email O’Keefe Law for a free, confidential consultation and important advice about your defense options.
Backed by years of courtroom experience, Attorney Patrick William O’Keefe has the practical knowledge and skills to provide exceptional advocacy and get results inside and outside of the courtroom.
If you contact just one attorney, you must contact board-certified Attorney Patrick William O’Keefe today. Remember, it is never too early to hire the right attorney, but it could be too late.