When you are arrested or receive a citation for committing a crime in California, you will be given a court date. It is absolutely vital to always appear to any ordered court dates. While some cases, such as traffic cases or local ordinance violations, may involve a ticket or fine that you can pay without appearing in court, most misdemeanor and felony charges will require an appearance in court before you have any chance to fight the case or plead guilty.
While you may need to appear in court to have your case dropped or dismissed, you can usually end the case before trial. The Ventura criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain the criminal court process in California and when you can get charges dropped and dismissed. For help with your criminal charges, contact our law offices today to schedule a free legal consultation.
What’s the Difference Between Dropped and Dismissed Charges?
Many people say that they want their charges “dropped” or “dismissed,” but even police and lawyers may use these phrases interchangeably on a daily basis. However, each term has a specific legal definition and consequences you should understand.
When charges are “dropped,” it means that the police or prosecutor removed them from the list of charges against you and you will no longer face any charges for that offense. When charges are dropped, they are usually dropped as part of an agreement with the prosecution and cannot be brought back. However, if charges were dropped because they think you were wrongly accused or they just need more evidence, it is possible for police and prosecutors to refile dropped charges later.
If a charge is “dismissed,” it means that the judge found a legal or factual problem with the charges, and the charges are removed from your case. If a charge is dismissed before trial, police and prosecutors could research the case further and come back with stronger charges. However, many judges will have a case “dismissed with prejudice,” which means that the charges cannot be refiled.
You can also be “acquitted” of charges if the charges are dismissed after the jury has already been sworn in on your case. Charges you have been acquitted of cannot be refiled without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. If a jury finds you “not guilty,” that is also an acquittal.
What this means for you is that if your charges are dropped or dismissed before trial, you may be able to face those charges again. However, police and prosecutors are quite busy and do not typically pursue cases they have already lost, making pre-trial dismissal or dropping of charges one of the best outcomes you can hope for in a criminal case.
When Are Charges Dropped and Dismissed?
As mentioned, charges can be “dropped” by a prosecutor or police officer and “dismissed” by a judge. This means that charges will typically not be dismissed until after you’ve already gone to court at least once. Technically, prosecutors can drop charges before you appear in court if they find that the case does not have any merits or if they realize someone else committed the crime – but prosecutors will typically not accept phone calls from defense attorneys or defendants asking to drop the charges until after you’ve already arrived in court for your initial appearance. Instead, the following are the common stages when your case will be dropped or dismissed in CA.
The initial appearance in court is known as an “arraignment,” and it is your first day in court to have a lawyer present and have the judge explain the charges you face. It is also when you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. You may also enter a no-contest plea (known as a nolo contendere plea) or other pleas, but these are rare. If the judge sees a problem with your case at that time or the prosecutor would like to modify the charges, it is possible that charges could be dropped or dismissed at arraignment – but it is also possible that the prosecutor may add additional charges.
Preliminary Hearing (Felonies Only)
The next step in your case depends on whether your charges were misdemeanor or felony charges. Misdemeanors typically cover charges like low-level theft and assault charges, while felonies account for robbery, sexual assault, and other serious criminal charges.
In a misdemeanor case, your charges will proceed straight to the pre-trial stages discussed below.
In a felony case, there will be a preliminary hearing. During the preliminary hearing, the judge will decide whether there is “probable cause” for the charges. If the prosecutor is not able to prove probable cause, the judge will dismiss the charges. A prosecutor can also drop charges at this stage if they notice a problem with the charges or think you were wrongly charged.
If the case moves on to the pre-trial stages, you will have time to prepare for trial by exchanging evidence with the police and prosecutors, and your attorney can present motions to fight the evidence and charges in your case. If your attorney is successful, the judge may dismiss the case before trial ever begins. The prosecutor can also drop charges at this point.
After trial begins, any charges that are dropped or dismissed typically qualify as an acquittal and cannot be refiled later.
Call Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers Today for a Free Legal Consultation on Your Case
If you or a loved one was charged with a crime in California, contact the Ventura County criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today. Our attorneys can work to get your charges dropped and dismissed to help you avoid long days in court and substantial criminal penalties. To schedule your free legal consultation, call our law offices today at (805) 585-5056.