On What Grounds Can a Case be Dismissed?

No Probable Cause to Arrest

Police need probable cause to arrest a person. Probable cause means the police believe a person has committed a crime, and that belief is based on objective factual circumstances. An officer cannot arrest a person simply because they have a “feeling” that person broke the law.

If the police officer did not have a good reason to suspect and arrest you for a crime, then you may be able to get the charges against you dismissed because the officer lacked probable cause to arrest you in the first place.

Illegal Stop or Search

A law enforcement officer can stop a vehicle or a person on the street under certain circumstances, such as if the officer reasonably believes a crime was committed.

If a law enforcement officer randomly stops a vehicle or person or because of their race or gender, then that stop violates the person’s constitutional rights and is considered an illegal stop. Since the stop was deemed illegal, your defense attorney can make a motion to suppress that evidence. If the motion is granted, the prosecutor may file a motion to dismiss.

Generally, a person, car, or house can be searched if the police have a search warrant or if special circumstances arise. Some special circumstances include (but are not limited to):

  • Exigent circumstances  coupled with reasonable suspicion
  • Evidence was in plain view
  • The evidence was in a place where a person had no reasonable expectation of privacy
  • Consent to the search
  • The search was incident to a lawful arrest

An example of a special circumstance is police searching a person without a warrant because the officer has reasonable belief a person is carrying a deadly weapon.

However, if the police conduct a search without a warrant and no special circumstances were present, then the evidence gathered in that illegal search may be thrown out. Your defense attorney may make a motion for the evidence to be suppressed. If the motion is granted, the prosecutor may file a motion to dismiss the charges.

Failing to State Miranda Rights

When a person is arrested and questioned, law enforcement officers are generally required to read them their Miranda Rights. Miranda Rights give the accused certain rights, such as the right to:

  • Remain silent – you do not have to answer any questions, but if you do talk, then these statements may be used against you in a court
  • Consult with an attorney – if you cannot pay for one then an attorney will be appointed
  • Have an attorney present while being questioned

If you want to assert these rights, you must say so. However, if a law enforcement official does not read your Miranda Rights, or did not give them to you properly, then any statements you made may not be used against you in court. This is important because sometimes statements are the only evidence police have that a crime was committed.

For example, if you were arrested for a crime and the police did not read you your Miranda Rights, but you confessed to the crime on the way to the jail in response to police questioning, then that statement may be thrown out. If that statement of confession was the only evidence the police had, then your charges may be dropped since the prosecutor does not have any evidence.

There are a few exceptions to Miranda Rights, so consult with your defense attorney for further information.

Insufficient Evidence

Once you are arrested and charges are pending, the prosecutor must present evidence to a grand jury or magistrate to show they have enough evidence to establish probable cause. The evidence the prosecutor brings forward must have an objective, factual basis. However, if the grand jury or magistrate does not find probable cause with the evidence presented by the prosecutor, then the charges may be dismissed.

Mistakes in the Criminal Complaint

When a police officer writes a charging document or criminal complaint, the officer must sign the document under oath attesting to the truthfulness of the contents. If the criminal complaint does not comply with local or state law because of significant errors or omissions, then the officer who wrote and signed the complaint needs to fix the document while under oath.

However, if the officer retires, leaves his job, or becomes unavailable before the error is discovered, then the prosecutor may have to dismiss the complaint because of the mistake in the document.

Unavailable Witness

If a key witness is unavailable to testify, the prosecutor may not have enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If this happens, the prosecutor may need to dismiss the case.

For example, a key witness may be the only person who can identify the defendant. However, if the key witness is no longer available because of relocation or other reasons, and no one else can identify the defendant as part of the crime, then the prosecutor may nove to have the case dismissed.

Another strategy a defense attorney may employ is to challenge the witness’ identification of the defendant. The attorney may raise issues with how the police conducted the line-up or how the identification process was conducted.

If the judge finds the police conducted the line-up or identification improperly, the witness may not be able to testify at trial. The prosecutor may drop the charges if this was their only witness and move to have the case dismissed.

Lost Evidence

If the prosecution lost an important piece of physical evidence, then the case may not be able to go to trial. If this happens, the prosecution may not have enough other evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt so the case may be dismissed.

Furthermore, if the police do not show the evidence was handled appropriately from the time the police seized it and until the trial, then the evidence could be suppressed. If this evidence is critical in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt then the case may be dismissed.

Appellate Court

An appeal is another way to get charges dismissed. An appeal comes after the case has gone to trial, and the trial court ruled against the defendant. The defense attorney can appeal this decision and sometimes get the case dismissed. A dismissal in this situation happens when the appellate court “reverses” and “renders” a judgment of acquittal.

Insufficient Evidence to Support Jury’s Findings

In some circumstances, an appellate court may reverse a finding of guilt on grounds that the jury did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion at the trial level.

In circumstances like this, the defense will have asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal —  before the case went to the jury —  and the trial court judge denied that motion. On appeal, the defense attorney makes this same argument and may win. If this happens, the appellate court reverses and directs the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal.

No Jurisdiction

Courts can only hear cases in their jurisdiction. This power is given to them by legislators and the constitution. Sometimes, a court oversteps and hears a case out of their jurisdiction. For example, a federal court may hear a case because it happened on federal property. However, as a legal matter, the appellate court may determine the property was state land then the federal appellate court could overturn the conviction.

A Bad Search or Arrest

If the appellate court reverses the conviction on grounds of a bad search or arrest, there may not be enough evidence to warrant another trial. For example, if the case was overturned on appeal because there was insufficient evidence to support the defendant’s arrest, the court may dismiss the charges.

If a search is deemed unconstitutional in the appellate court, the prosecution may not have enough evidence to go forward with their case because of a lack of evidence. This may also lead the prosecutor to dismiss the charges.

Consult a Defense Attorney

At Cofer Luster law firm, we have the experience to fight your criminal charges. There may be grounds for dismissing charges because of an illegal search, lack of probable cause, or a number of other reasons. Contact us for more information.


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