What Does Dismissed Without Prejudice Mean?

When you have a court date, the best thing you can hear upon arrival is, “Your criminal case has been dismissed.” However, we need to define dismissal because a case can be “dismissed without prejudice” or “dismissed with prejudice,” and that small phrase makes a big difference. 

Difference Between Dismissed With and Dismissed Without Prejudice

There are different types of dismissals, whether it is a voluntary dismissal or involuntary dismissal. When a case is dismissed, the court will refer to it as “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.” 

Dismissed with prejudice

If your case is dismissed with prejudice, all of the charges are completely dropped. This is a final decision. The case will have no impact on your criminal record and won’t be picked up at a later date. You are free and clear.

Note that, if a criminal case is dismissed with prejudice, the prosecution cannot charge the defendant with the exact criminal charges or related criminal charges again. However, prosecutors can file completely different charges against the defendant for something else.

Dismissed without prejudice

If the judge dismisses a case without prejudice dismissal, then the prosecutor can refile that case against the defendant at a later date. There might be a delay in the proceedings, but the defendant can still face a potential criminal conviction. 

Note that when a criminal case is dismissed without prejudice, the prosecution can pursue charges for the same crime at a later date. 

Process for Dismissal

The process for dismissing a case is relatively simple and involves one of the following:

  1. The plaintiff files a motion for dismissal in court because they want to voluntarily have the case dismissed, OR
  2. The defense attorney files a motion for dismissal with the judge because they want the judge to provide an involuntary dismissal.

If the plaintiff files, the plaintiff can throw out the case at any time, for any reason, regardless of whether they plan to pursue criminal charges or compensation in another form of court. If the defense files, the defense attorney has to provide a reason for requesting that the judge consider dismissing the case. 

If a motion to dismiss has been filed by the defendant’s attorney, explaining why the case should be legally dismissed by the judge, the plaintiff has an opportunity to respond. The plaintiff can attempt to persuade the judge that the case should continue in spite of the objections and why.

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Example of Dismissal

Let’s look at an example of how this might proceed with prejudice and without prejudice:

Clary was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence. She now faces criminal charges for a DUI. Her attorney has filed a motion to dismiss, urging the court to end the case because there is insufficient evidence against her. 

Without prejudice…

The judge can choose to give the plaintiff a chance to fix problems with the case rather than dismiss it entirely. So, the judge dismisses the case without prejudice, allowing the prosecution time to gather sufficient evidence against Clary.

With prejudice…

The judge decides the prosecution won’t be able to gather sufficient evidence after the fact and dismisses the case with prejudice so that all charges against Clary are dropped and cannot be brought against her again. If, however, she is pulled over in the future and arrested for driving under the influence with proper cause, that represents a new case, but he cannot face charges for the arrest that was dismissed with prejudice.

When Can a Criminal Case Be Dismissed?

If an individual case is before the court, an attorney might be working to develop a sound legal defense only to find that, at any point prior to court, and the case has been dismissed. At any time between the defendant’s being arrested and charged with a crime and the potential conviction, that case can be dismissed.

Also read:Civil Case vs. Criminal Case: What’s the Difference?

According to U.S. law, there are two different types of legal cases: civil cases and criminal cases. But how is a civil case different...

Some examples of when a criminal case can be dismissed include the following:

  • When the person who is charging the defendant with a crime opts for voluntary dismissal, that person no longer wants to press charges. For example, if someone was trying to convict you of trespassing, but they later decided that you had made an innocent mistake, they could choose to voluntarily dismiss the charges against you.
  • When the defense attorney makes a motion to dismiss a case before trial because the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence.
  • When a criminal case is dismissed because any evidence against the defendant was obtained illegally. For example, if a person is being charged with having a fake ID, but the only way the police determined that was by illegally entering that person’s home without a proper search warrant to find the ID in question. 
  • When the arrest was not based on probable cause. Police officers can’t just arrest someone because they feel like it. There has to be probable cause. If, for example, you get pulled over and arrested for a DUI, but it wasn’t at a checkpoint, it was on a Tuesday afternoon, you were driving back to the office after a meeting, there was nothing wrong with the car, and you didn’t make any illegal maneuver that would suggest you were under the influence, there was no probable cause.
  • When evidence was not handled properly. Using the DUI example from above, if you are pulled over for DUI, and they don’t administer the blood alcohol test correctly, then the evidence is compromised, and any evidence they have against you can be dismissed.

Why would a case be dismissed without prejudice? 

Criminal law gives a few legal reasons for dismissing a case without prejudice. If a case is dismissed without prejudice, it is dismissed for now. However, the prosecution can refile the case later if they have better evidence, have more evidence, or refile in a more appropriate court.

Can a case be dismissed voluntarily?

Yes, a plaintiff can choose to voluntarily dismiss a case. However, if the plaintiff dismisses the case without prejudice, this could mean that they simply need to file in another court. Similarly, they could choose to instead file a lawsuit in a different state or a federal court instead of a state court.

For example, Katie was involved in a car accident that she claims was not her fault. She is currently in the trial court in San Francisco with her car accident claim. But she realizes that she could file in small claims court instead with less hassle and walk away with an acceptable amount of compensation. So she files a motion to voluntarily dismiss the trial court claim in San Francisco.

Can a case be dismissed without prejudice by the court?

Yes, a case can be dismissed without prejudice by the court, which means that the case has been dismissed involuntarily. A judge can dismiss a case without prejudice because of objections that have been raised. Usually, a judge will dismiss a case without prejudice after the defense attorney has requested it on his or her client’s behalf. It’s very rare for a judge to arbitrarily look at a case and decide to dismiss it without being asked. Usually, cases can be dismissed without prejudice by the court in situations where the law wasn’t followed properly. 

For example, Jack was the subject of a lawsuit. Jack had to be properly served the papers telling him that he was involved in a lawsuit. The state in which Jack lives requires someone to serve him those papers in person. But Jack never received his copy of the lawsuit. This qualifies as improper service and grounds for dismissal.

OR

Martin is involved in criminal charges for serving alcohol to minors at a barbecue at his house. Somehow, this charge was brought before the small claims court when it is technically a criminal case and, therefore, not appropriate for the small claims court, which is meant for civil cases. The attorney might request that the judge dismiss the case because it’s in the wrong venue.

How Long Can a Case Be Dismissed Without Prejudice?

The time for a case to remain dismissed without prejudice depends on the charges brought against the defendant. Every criminal charge has a statute of limitations. If the case is dismissed without prejudice, the prosecution has to abide by the statute of limitations for the crime.

Using the example of Katie and her car accident from above, Katie might have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. After 12 months, she decides to voluntarily dismiss her original claim and file in the small claims court. She now has one year left after her first case is dismissed without prejudice to follow up with a claim in the other court.

What Happens After a Dismissal Without Prejudice

After a dismissal without prejudice, the defendant will receive notification from the court or from his or her attorney. It is important to stay vigilant because this type of dismissal doesn’t mean that the ordeal is over. The prosecution can choose to submit charges again, and in many cases, they will.

If, for example, the original reason for dismissal was because they didn’t have enough evidence, they will attempt to uncover more evidence or refile the case with lesser charges for which they have sufficient evidence.

In this example, Henry was charged with Domestic Battery, but the courts dismissed the case without prejudice because there wasn’t enough evidence. The prosecution might have enough evidence to instead support a domestic assault charge because of the threatening environment that Henry created even if he didn’t actually use physical violence.

Understanding the statute of limitations for your situation is important because, once that statute of limitations runs out, the prosecution can no longer refile, no matter how the case was dismissed, so there is a chance that the criminal charges may never resurface.

What Should I Do If My Case Was Dismissed Without Prejudice?

If your case was dismissed without prejudice, it is important to reach out to your attorney. He or she can go over the statute of limitations for your specific criminal charges, what the plaintiff or prosecution is likely to do, and what to expect moving forward.

In many circumstances, the attorney isn’t notified that charges have been refiled against his or her client, so it’s always important that the court has your correct address and that you look for any document in the mail that has to do with refiled charges. If you do receive such notice, you will want to speak with your defense attorney immediately.

Conclusions

If you or someone you care about has been charged with a crime, asking questions like, “What does it mean when your case is dismissed without prejudice?” or “How long can a case be dismissed without prejudice?” is normal. This information for answering, “What does dismissed without prejudice mean?” is only for general information purposes. Thankfully, good criminal defense attorneys at a local law firm can help you by cultivating an attorney-client relationship and reviewing the legal reason behind your dismissal. 

Article by James Finsweet

James Finsweet is a Head of legal department in LawBrother Ltd. At Lawrina, James contributes his experience in law practice and shares opinions on law regulations and news.

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