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What Happens If My Charges Are Dropped?

Posted on Aug 23rd, 2023 by Super User 1611 Views

Prosecutors have the discretion to drop criminal charges in specific scenarios. They are responsible for commencing and prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of the state or government. Nonetheless, they retain the discretion to dismiss charges if they deem them just and fair.

A prosecutor signifies their intention to cease pursuing the case against the implicated individual by dropping charges. Consequently, the charges in question are effectively discarded. Nevertheless, this act does not inevitably preclude the possibility of future charges being brought forward by the prosecutor.

What Does it Mean for a Prosecutor to Drop Charges?

Prosecutors can drop charges, whether before or after formally filing them. The precise timing hinges on the particular circumstances encompassing the case and the discretionary judgment of the prosecutor.

During the pre-filing phase, law enforcement entities investigate alleged criminal offenses before formally lodging charges. These investigations involve the collection of evidence, witness interviews, and compiling a comprehensive case dossier.

Subsequently, prosecutors scrutinize the evidence to ascertain whether it suffices to initiate criminal charges. If the prosecutor concludes that the evidence is insufficient or that filing charges would not align with the principles of justice, they can choose not to prosecute the case.

In such scenarios, charges are not officially filed, and the case does not advance through the criminal justice system. Conversely, after formally filing charges in court, prosecutors can also discard or dismiss said charges. This prerogative can be exercised at any juncture during the legal proceedings, even after the charges have been officially filed.

The decision to drop charges after filing can be predicated on diverse factors. These include the emergence of fresh evidence, the retraction of witness statements, legal difficulties, or other circumstances that erode the strength of the case or indicate that pursuing the case does not serve the interests of justice.

If a prosecutor drops a charge against you, it carries the following implications:

  • The prosecutor will cease pursuing the specific charge against you.
  • The charge being dropped means the case will not progress to trial.
  • You will not face penalties for the alleged offense connected to the dropped charge.

You are generally expected to be released if you are in custody when the charge is dropped. However, the dropped charge does not ensure permanent dismissal. The prosecutor retains the right to reinstate the charge later, especially if new evidence emerges that implicates you.

Difference Between a Dismissed Charge and a Dropped Charge

It is important to distinguish between a dismissed and a dropped charge.

Legally, the terms "dropped" and "dismissed" are commonly used to describe the outcomes of criminal charges, albeit with subtle distinctions.

A dropped charge generally refers to a scenario where a prosecutor opts not to continue pursuing a specific charge against an individual. This decision can arise at any stage of the criminal justice process, whether during an investigation or after formally filing charges.

When prosecutors drop a charge, it signifies their choice to discontinue pursuing that particular charge. Consequently, the case associated with that charge is effectively halted. Notably, dropping a charge does not imply a determination of guilt or innocence.

On the other hand, a dismissed charge commonly refers to a situation in which a judge or court formally terminates or dismisses a charge. This situation typically occurs after the case has been filed and the judge determines that there are legal grounds to invalidate the charge. Dismissal could occur due to various factors, including:

  • Legal deficiencies in the charging process.
  • Insufficient evidence.
  • Procedural errors, or
  • Constitutional rights violations.

A dismissed charge indicates the court's determination of the charge as invalid or unfit for further proceedings.

Judges possess the authority to dismiss cases with or without prejudice.

The action is definitive and irrevocable in the event of a dismissal with prejudice. Consequently, the prosecution is barred from reopening the case. The court's decision acknowledges substantial deficiencies, including rights infringements, insufficient evidence, or legal errors. This dismissal serves as a safeguard against future prosecution on identical grounds.

On the other hand, dismissing a case without prejudice means that the courts dismiss the case but leave room for a potential re-filing of charges. The dismissal, however, does not constitute a conclusive determination on the case's merits. It allows the prosecution to address shortcomings, rectify deficiencies, or gather supplementary evidence before deciding on the potential re-filing of charges. It maintains the option for future prosecution while allowing the prosecution to rectify shortcomings in the current case.

Double Jeopardy

The double jeopardy clause is a Fifth Amendment protection. It prevents you from facing multiple prosecutions or punishments for the same offense.

According to the double jeopardy clause, you have the right to be free from being subject to the same offense twice and being put in jeopardy of life or limb. It means the state cannot retry you for the same offense once you have been acquitted or convicted of a specific crime. The protection safeguards you from harassment, oppression, and the risk of facing repeated prosecutions for the same alleged misconduct.

There are three essential principles of the double jeopardy clause explicitly designed for your benefit:

Protection Against Multiple Trials

Once acquitted, meaning you have been found not guilty of a crime, you cannot be subjected to another trial for that same offense, regardless of any new evidence or legal developments. This safeguard ensures that you will not face repeated criminal proceedings and potential mistreatment by the government.

Protection Against Multiple Punishments

If you have already been convicted and have received punishment for a crime, the double jeopardy clause prohibits additional punishment for the same offense. This principle ensures fairness and prevents the government from imposing multiple penalties for the same act.

Exception For Separate Offenses

The double jeopardy clause does not prohibit the prosecution of separate offenses that arise from the same conduct. If your actions constitute distinct crimes, the government can bring charges for each offense separately, even if they stem from a single event or course of conduct.

The double jeopardy clause upholds the principles of finality, fairness, and the prevention of government overreach. It guarantees that you cannot face multiple prosecutions or punishments for the same offense, thereby safeguarding your rights and preserving the integrity of the legal system.

Reasons Why a Prosecutor Will Drop a Case

Various reasons inform the Riverside County District Attorney’s office to drop charges. Here is a look at some of them:

a) Insufficient Evidence

In some situations, prosecutors are presented with evidence that is not substantial enough to establish a conviction or prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The law requires prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

When confronted with insufficient evidence, a prosecutor has several potential courses of action. Prosecutors could opt not to initiate charges initially. If they did, they could drop or dismiss them. Insufficient evidence can arise from factors including:

  • Scarcity of reliable witnesses.
  • Conflicting or unreliable testimonies,
  • The absence of tangible or forensic evidence, or
  • Other circumstances that weaken the overall strength of the case.

b) Discovery of Exonerating Evidence

Following the charging or conviction of an individual for a crime, new exonerating evidence can surface, which can establish their innocence or raise substantial doubts about their guilt. This evidence, if credible and compelling, can challenge the original findings, prompting a reconsideration or reevaluation of the case.

The impact of newly discovered exonerating evidence on a criminal case cannot be understated. It includes various forms of evidence, like DNA analysis, eyewitness accounts, surveillance recordings, or any other previously undisclosed or inaccessible evidence from the initial investigation or trial. This evidence carries the potential to demonstrate that the accused party did not commit the alleged offense or that significant errors or injustices occurred during the original proceedings.

A range of potential outcomes could arise upon presenting new exonerating evidence. The prosecutor could reopen the case, meticulously reassess the evidence, and potentially withdraw the charges against the individual. In certain instances, the evidence could instigate a post-conviction review. In the evaluation, the convicted individual can seek to overturn their conviction or secure a sentence reduction based on the newly uncovered evidence.

The discovery of new exonerating evidence bears immense significance. It can rectify wrongful convictions, safeguard the rights of the accused, and restore justice in the legal system.

c) Plea Bargaining or Cooperation Agreements

Engaging in a plea bargain or cooperation agreement entails negotiating with the prosecution to achieve a mutually advantageous arrangement.

A plea bargain materializes when the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a lesser offense or reduced charges in exchange for specific considerations from the prosecution. These considerations include a reduced sentence, the dismissal of specific charges, or a recommended sentence for the judge's consideration. Plea bargains are prevalent within the criminal justice system. They streamline the process, save resources by circumventing a trial, and offer a resolution for both parties.

On the other hand, cooperation involves the defendant providing assistance or pertinent information to the prosecution regarding the investigation or prosecution of different criminal cases. This cooperation typically involves offering testimony, evidence, or valuable insights about co-defendants or illegal activities. In return for their cooperation, the defendant receives leniency or favorable treatment. This leniency results in a reduced sentence or the dismissal of charges.

Both plea bargains and cooperation serve as mechanisms to expedite legal proceedings, foster resolution, and potentially yield advantages for both the defendant and the prosecution. These alternatives allow defendants to secure more advantageous outcomes or mitigate potential consequences while aiding prosecutors in gathering evidence and pursuing justice in other cases.

d) Constitutional Violations

Actions or practices infringing upon the rights the constitution safeguards constitute constitutional violations. Within criminal law, these violations often involve acts by law enforcement or the government that transgress an individual's constitutional rights, including those enshrined in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Examples of these violations include:

  • Unlawful searches and seizures — Law enforcement violates an individual’s rights when they conduct searches or seizures without a valid warrant or probable cause. Their actions violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • Coerced confessions — In other instances, law enforcement employs coercion, intimidation, or other improper tactics to elicit a confession from a suspect. These acts violate the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.
  • Denial of the right to counsel — As a defendant, you have a right to adequate legal representation. The right extends to having an attorney present during questioning or trial. A denial of this right infringes upon the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel.
  • Excessive, inhumane punishments or treatments of a defendant or punishments that violate their dignity violate the defendant’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Racial profiling — It is a common constitutional violation. Profiling violates the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. It occurs when law enforcement targets individuals based on race or ethnicity without reasonable suspicion.

The significance of constitutional violations lies in their erosion of the fundamental rights and liberties to which individuals are entitled. These violations have grave implications for the legality and fairness of criminal proceedings. Consequently, when constitutional violations transpire, they result in the exclusion of evidence, the dismissal of charges, or other remedies aimed at safeguarding the rights of the accused.

e) The Victim’s Unwillingness to Participate in the Proceedings

The prosecution faces significant hurdles when confronted with the victim's unwillingness to cooperate in a criminal case. Without active involvement from the victim, gathering crucial evidence and securing their testimony becomes challenging.

Several factors contribute to the victim's hesitance to participate. These include fear, trauma, concerns about privacy, or a strong desire to put the incident behind them. Additionally, doubts about the effectiveness of the criminal justice system or apprehensions about potential negative consequences associated with their involvement could also deter the victim.

In these circumstances, prosecutors must make careful decisions. They could proceed with the case by relying on alternative evidence. Alternatively, they could seek testimony from other witnesses if they are available. They could also consider dropping or dismissing the charges. However, they must believe that the victim's cooperation is indispensable and cannot be reasonably substituted.

Victims’ unwillingness to participate frequently arises in domestic violence cases, where victims encounter emotional dynamics and face additional barriers to active participation.

Note: Victims are not solely responsible for deciding whether charges are brought or dropped. The ultimate decision lies with the district attorney or prosecutor handling the case. He/she will weigh numerous factors, including the victim's willingness to participate. Nonetheless, their primary responsibility remains to ensure public safety and uphold the pursuit of justice.

f) Presentation of a Strong Defense

When defense attorneys present strong defenses, the prosecution could be compelled to drop the charges. Defense attorneys present strong defense arguments by:

  • Independently investigating the case — Investigations could uncover exonerating evidence.
  • Cross-examine witnesses — Cross-examinations seek to demonstrate to the jury inconsistencies in the witness’ accounts.

A strong defense's nature depends on your case's unique circumstances. It involves:

  • Disputing the admissibility of evidence obtained through unlawful searches or seizures.
  • Scrutinizing the credibility or reliability of witnesses.
  • Presenting alibi or other exculpatory evidence.
  • Casting doubt on the accuracy or integrity of forensic evidence or
  • Emphasizing constitutional violations or procedural errors committed by law enforcement or the prosecution.

The primary objective of a strong defense is not necessarily to establish your innocence. The choice of the defense strategy seeks to ensure that the prosecution fails to fulfill its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A formidable defense can result in an acquittal, reduced charges, or a favorable plea agreement by instilling reasonable doubt or presenting a compelling case in your favor.

How Can I Determine If My Charges Have Been Dropped?

It is best to consult your criminal defense attorney to determine whether the state dropped the charges against you. Your attorney can effectively communicate with the prosecutor's office and obtain your case's most accurate and up-to-date status.

If you have no legal representation, an alternative approach would be to contact the criminal court responsible for your charges directly. Contacting the court clerk can help you learn about the progress of your case. You can inquire about forthcoming court dates or any indications of dropped charges. However, court clerks could not possess the same comprehensive access to information as your attorney.

It is best to exercise caution and refrain from personally contacting the police or the prosecuting office to inquire about the status of your charges. Engaging in this communication without the guidance of legal counsel inadvertently results in self-incriminating statements or unforeseen repercussions. Allow your attorney to navigate the legal process. Only then can you be sure that your rights and interests are protected.

Find a Bail Bondsman Near Me

Navigating the legal system has its fair share of challenges. At Justice Bail Bonds, we understand this. We offer bail bonds to secure your release. Thus, you can consult your attorney about your case freely outside the jail. Contact our offices today at 714-541-1155 if you or a loved one is looking for a bail bond in Temecula.

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For faster service please call 951-445-4155 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you or a loved one has been arrested and need to be bailed out quickly and confidentially or if you simply have questions regarding bail, an arrest, or inmate information please do not hesitate to call or fill out our contact us form. We are available 24/7 for all of your bail needs. 

For faster service please call 951-445-4155 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you or a loved one has been arrested and need to be bailed out quickly and confidentially or if you simply have questions regarding bail, an arrest, or inmate information please do not hesitate to call or fill out our contact us form. We are available 24/7 for all of your bail needs.