March 19, 2021 | Criminal Defense
An arrest can be traumatic, but a criminal conviction can ruin the rest of your life.
A criminal record can prevent you from:
- Renting a home
- Owning a firearm
- Getting some jobs
- Obtaining a bank loan
- Receiving approval for occupational licenses
Avoiding a criminal conviction can help you stay out of jail or prison and save you from the stigma of a criminal record. Here are some things you should know about how to get a criminal case dismissed.
What to Know About Dismissals
Your criminal defense attorney will identify any potential grounds for dismissal. A dismissal by a judge or prosecutor will end the case, at least temporarily.
What Happens When Prosecutors Drop Charges?
A dismissal means that charges were withdrawn. A dismissal does not mean that you were found “not guilty.” It ends the current case, with the court neither convicting nor acquitting you. As a result, a court imposes no sentence, and you will walk out of court as a free person. A criminal background check might show the arrest, but it will not show a conviction.
Can Charges Be Dropped Before Trial?
Yes, charges can be dropped prior to the start of a trial. Most criminal cases never reach trial. In 2020, Indiana courts disposed of 219,000 criminal cases. However, only 483 of these cases went to a jury trial, and 2,970 went to a trial before a judge. Most cases ended with a plea bargain or dismissal. Indiana judges summarily disposed of other cases, which is a common outcome for traffic citations.
On What Grounds Can a Case Be Dismissed?
Prosecutors have an ethical duty of candor to the court and the public. Prosecutors also want to win cases. If a prosecutor sees signs that a criminal case is weak, the prosecutor must either find more evidence to support the case or dismiss it.
Some reasons that a case may be dismissed include findings that:
- Your conduct did not violate a criminal statute.
- The prosecution cannot prove that you were engaged in criminal activity.
- The police violated your rights while investigating the case.
If the prosecution believes that it can uncover more evidence, it might dismiss the case without prejudice. A dismissal without prejudice means that the prosecution can refile the charges later if they decide to do so.
Differences Between Dismissal and a Plea Bargain
A plea bargain has the same effect as if you were found to be guilty at trial. When you enter a plea of “guilty” or “no contest,” the court records will show that you were convicted of the charge to which you pled, and the judge will sentence you.
A dismissal avoids these consequences.
How to Get Charges Dropped Before Court Date – 5 Examples
A prosecutor might drop charges for many reasons. Likewise, a court might feel compelled to dismiss charges for many reasons. Some of the ways that you can persuade a prosecutor or judge to dismiss charges are covered below.
Example 1: Presenting Exculpatory Evidence
Prosecutors cannot pursue charges if they do not believe that you committed the charged crime. To win a conviction, a prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond reasonable doubt. You can create doubt by presenting an alibi witness or physical evidence that you did not commit a crime.
Keep in mind that some exculpatory evidence might not persuade a prosecutor to dismiss the charges against you. For example, relatives might not make credible alibi witnesses because they may have an incentive to lie on your behalf.
Example 2: Showing Violations of Your Constitutional Rights
The U.S. Constitution protects you from coercive police tactics, including:
- The right to be free from self-incrimination
- The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures
- The right to legal representation during interrogations
- The right to cross-examine the witnesses against you
- The right to see the evidence against you
A judge can sanction the prosecution for any violations of these constitutional rights. A judge usually sanctions the prosecution by excluding the evidence or witness from the trial.
Faced with a loss of its evidence, a prosecutor might dismiss the charges.
Example 3: Negotiating Suspension of the Case for a Pretrial Diversion Program
Indiana law allows pretrial diversion programs that let prosecutors and defendants enter into agreements to withhold prosecution. The agreement usually requires you to seek some form of treatment and remain out of trouble for a specified amount of time.
If you fulfill the conditions of your pretrial diversion program, the court will dismiss your charges. You will have no criminal record from the related charges.
Example 4: Negotiating a Plea Agreement
Some prosecutors will drop felony charges in exchange for a guilty plea to misdemeanor charges. You will still be sentenced on the misdemeanor, but you will avoid the harsh penalties for a felony. You will also avoid the stigma of a felony conviction.
For example, prosecutors can file a theft crime as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the stolen property’s value. A prosecutor might reduce a Level 6 felony theft to a Class A misdemeanor in exchange for a guilty plea.
This strategy does not result in a clean criminal history. But it gives you a path to clearing your criminal history. Indiana law allows expungement of misdemeanor convictions five years after you complete your misdemeanor sentence if you avoid any new charges during that time.
Example 5: Cooperating in a Bigger Case
It may seem like a plot from a TV show or movie, but prosecutors will drop charges if you have something that they want. For example, if police arrest you for drug possession, prosecutors might drop the charges if you help them identify and gather evidence against others in the drug distribution chain.
How to Get Charges Dropped
You probably need a lawyer to help you get your charges dropped. Prosecutors can voluntarily dismiss charges, but they usually require persuasion and negotiation before going to court to file a dismissal.
Your lawyer can also file a motion asking a judge to dismiss the charges. Most judges defer to the prosecution and rarely dismiss charges on their own. But in the right circumstances, a prosecutor might bring a case that’s so flawed that a judge has no choice but to dismiss the charges.