If you pay close attention to the news, you may notice that certain criminal cases are occasionally dismissed from court. Has this ever left you scratching at your head in confusion? The truth is that prosecutors are sometimes either unable or unwilling to prosecute a case. Although this may sound absurd, there are in fact many legitimate reasons that this might occur:
After the police have charged an individual with a crime, the prosecutor must prove without a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed the crime in question. If there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute, however, the court may be forced to dismiss the case. Suppose a man is charged with murder because an eyewitness reported seeing him enter the home of the victim during the night of the murder. Unfortunately, the police is unable to locate any collaborating evidence such as DNA, hair fibers, or a weapon. Due to the lack of evidence, the prosecutor may therefore be forced to dismiss the case.
In instances during which a witness fails to appear, provides inconsistent or unclear statements, is reluctant to testify, or is unable to identify the offender, a case may be dismissed due to an unreliable witness. This is very common for cases based entirely on witness accounts. During early March 2008, for instance, Crystal Gail Mangum, a young stripper and escort, accused three members of Duke University’s men’s lacrosse team of raping her. Although the case had initially spurred outrage and disgust throughout the community (and the nation), it was eventually dismissed during April 2007 due to wildly inconsistent statements from Miss Mangum.
Lack of Pertinence
Sometimes, a prosecutor may dismiss a case simply due to a lack of pertinence. During Fall 2002, for example, I was charged with criminal mischief for having rammed my car’s bumper into several residential trash bins; my friends and I had gone on what we called a ‘trash can rampage.’ After having spoken with my neighbors, the prosecutor subsequently decided to dismiss the case because my neighbors, although irritated, had decided it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Violation of Due Process
The constitution affords every citizen certain rights in regards to arrest, seizure, and investigation. A police officer, for instance, cannot enter a suspect’s home without a court-approved search warrant. They are also forbidden from interrogating a suspect if the individual in question demands the counsel of a lawyer. If the defense attorney discovers that illegal methods were employed in the procurement of evidence, he or she can then demand dismissal of the case due to a violation of due process.
If a suspect is indicted with several charges, he or she may be able to win the dismissal of lesser charges by pleaing to a higher charge. Suppose a woman is charged with one count of burglary, two counts of trespassing, and three counts of vandalism. These charges combined could potentially result in an eight year incarceration bid. However, the prosecutor may allow the woman to plea to just burglary, and subsequently dismiss all other related charges. This would in turn lower the suspect’s potential sentence and simplify the process of prosecution.
Pretrial diversion involves the dismissal of charges based on a suspect’s cooperation in seeking treatment. If a young man is charged with possession of marijuana, for instance, the prosecutor may give him a ‘break’ by allowing him to seek treatment at a rehabilitation center. If he completes the treatment successfully, the prosecutor will then dismiss the charges. If, however, the young man ever finds himself in court again, the prosecutor will not be so nice the second time around.
Referral for Prosecution
When a suspect is facing even more serious charges in another jurisdiction, the prosecutor may opt to dismiss the case. This will allow the other jurisdiction’s prosecution to immediately begin processing their case. This is especially common when a suspect facing a State felony goes on to commit a Federal felony. In general, Federal cases take precedence over State cases.
Prosecutors do not dismiss cases merely out of whim. Every case dismissed is done so for valid reasons. Unfortunately, guilty criminals are sometimes able to utilize loopholes to avoid facing punishment. Although this does happen, realize that it is a very rare occurrence. 99 out of 100 times, justice will be served!