Case dismissed! What does it really mean and can it be reopened?

case dismissed

Case Dismissed…

When you’ve been charged with a crime and your freedom and livelihood are on the line, there’s nothing better than hearing the words, “Case Dismissed.” Getting criminal charges dismissed before trial is definitely a best-case scenario for a defendant, but is it really the end of your legal issues? Here’s a look at answers to some frequently asked questions regarding the dismissal of criminal charges.

What exactly happens when a criminal case is dismissed?

When a criminal case is dismissed, then it is over with no finding of guilt or conviction. Legal action has been terminated and the state is not moving forward with the prosecution — at least for now. A case can be dismissed at any time during the process, including before trial, during trial, or even after trial (if a convicted defendant wins on appeal.)

Who can dismiss a criminal case?

The prosecuting attorney and the judge are the only ones with the power to dismiss a criminal case. Because the prosecutor filed the charge, they also have the discretion to dismiss it if they believe the facts and circumstances warrant it. Likewise, a judge can dismiss the case if they find no legal basis for the charge, if the defendant’s rights have been violated, or if the state has failed to prove its case. Judges can dismiss a case either on their own motion or on the motion of the defendant. Most charges, however, are dismissed by prosecutors, not judges.

What are common reasons for a dismissal?

There are a number of reasons why a prosecutor or a judge may dismiss a criminal case. A skilled defense attorney will be able to identify legitimate grounds for dismissal. They include but aren’t limited to:

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  • The statute of limitations has expired.
  • The defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Witnesses are uncooperative or the victim recants.
  • Scientific analysis, such as DNA test results, reveals new information.
  • The defendant has agreed to work with the government in exchange for a dismissal.
  • Violation of the double jeopardy clause.
  • Prosecutorial discretion.

Can a dismissed case be reopened?

It depends. If prosecutors dismissed the case “without prejudice,” they can refile charges any time before the statute of limitations has expired – that is, they can reopen it if they are able to overcome whatever caused the dismissal in the first place. If the case is dismissed “with prejudice,” the case is over permanently. The case cannot be re-filed and you are in the clear.

If my case gets dismissed will I still have it on my record?

Yes, unless you take additional action. Many people wrongly believe that if their case is dismissed then it automatically comes off their record. The fact of the matter is that the arrest will stay on your record unless you obtain an expunction or nondisclosure — legal mechanisms that allow your record to be destroyed or sealed.  Until you get an order granting an expunction or nondisclosure, your arrest will remain a matter of public record and could adversely affect your life, including your ability to get a job or secure a home loan, among other things.

If you think your case has grounds for dismissal, or if your case has already been dismissed and you need an expunction or nondisclosure, contact Varghese Summersett PLLC today at 817-203-2220. We can help.

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Benson Varghese

Managing Partner at Varghese Summersett PLLC
Benson Varghese is the founder and Managing Partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC. He is a prolific writer and has authored hundreds of articles about criminal law in Texas and at the Federal level. His articles have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Above the Law, and have been selected as Top Blogs by the State Bar of Texas. He was named the Young Lawyer of the Year in 2019 by the Tarrant County Bar Association. Benson led the firm to become one of the 500 fastest growing businesses in the United States by Inc 500 Magazine in 2018. In the same year, the firm was named the Best Law Firm in Fort Worth by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The lawyers at Varghese Summersett PLLC exclusively handle criminal defense matters.
Benson Varghese