Let's review what it means if your criminal charges are “dismissed without prejudice.” If you're charged with one or more criminal offenses, your case can be resolved in any of the following ways:
- You can be convicted of the crime, whether by pleading guilty, a plea bargain, or a jury verdict;
- A jury verdict can acquit you;
- The prosecution may drop the charges for different reasons or
- The judge may dismiss the charges (with or without prejudice).
If your criminal charges are dismissed without prejudice, it means your case is not moving forward, and you're no longer charged with a crime—but it also leaves the door open for the prosecution to refile the same charges against you if they see fit.
In other words, a case dismissed without prejudice can be refiled later. This differs from cases dismissed with prejudice, which cannot be refiled and dismissed permanently. A case dismissed “without prejudice” is often only temporarily dismissed.
Criminal cases could be refiled in a different court, filed against others, or amended to include new charges. Still, they must be refiled before the applicable statute of limitations has expired.
Sometimes called a voluntary dismissal without prejudice, the prosecutor might ask the judge to dismiss the case without prejudice. If the judge agrees, the case will be dismissed and possibly refiled later.
Some reasons to ask for a dismissal without prejudice include new facts that have emerged that necessitate a change to the criminal charges or that new defendants will be added to the case. Perhaps the prosecutor wants to refile the case with less or more severe criminal charges or file a case in a different court.
Dismissal Without Prejudice – Explained
Dismissal without prejudice is a legal term indicating that charges have been dismissed but can be refiled at some point. Charges may be dismissed without prejudice at the prosecutor's request, or they may be dismissed at the judge's discretion.
In either case, it does not mean you've been cleared of suspicion or that you've been declared not guilty; it only means the current case against you is not going forward, which could be for several reasons.
Some attorneys view this move as a "temporary dismissal" because it is pretty common for prosecutors to refile the charges after a case is dismissed without prejudice.
By contrast, dismissal with prejudice means the case is over permanently. The charges cannot be brought back to court, even if new evidence emerges, and refiling charges would be considered double jeopardy. Dismissal with prejudice usually happens when a judge determines that the case has no merit or has serious procedural errors.
Why Would Prosecutors Request a Dismissal Without Prejudice?
Prosecutors may have several reasons for asking the judge to dismiss charges without prejudice, also called voluntary dismissal without prejudice. Some of the more common reasons include:
- Insufficient Evidence: The prosecutor might decide they do not have enough evidence to secure a conviction at the current time, and they want to shore up their case.
- Awaiting Further Investigation: Sometimes, an ongoing investigation may yield more substantial evidence in the future. In such instances, prosecutors may dismiss charges without prejudice to allow further investigation and potentially refile charges later.
- Procedural Errors: If there were errors in how evidence was collected or if the defendant's rights were violated during the arrest or investigation, the prosecutor might opt for dismissal without prejudice while these issues are addressed.
- Legal Strategy: Prosecutors may use dismissal without prejudice as a legal strategy. For instance, they might dismiss less serious charges to focus on more serious ones, with the option to refile the lesser charges later if needed.
- Adding New Defendants or Charges: Prosecutors might want to dismiss the current case to refile with additional defendants or charges added.
- Change of Venue: Prosecutors might want the current case dismissed so they can refile in a different court.
Perhaps a prosecutor may choose to dismiss a case without prejudice to have time to address a weakness or issue with their case. Maybe they decided to dismiss an assault with a deadly weapon case to a less serious simple assault.
In any of the above cases, it's usually a strategic decision when prosecutors request dismissal without prejudice, not because they're convinced they have no case. Thus, you should be prepared for the charges to be reintroduced.
Why Would a Judge Would Opt to Dismiss Without Prejudice?
The presiding judge over your case can also dismiss it without prejudice independent of the prosecution, also known as "involuntary dismissal without prejudice." Some reasons why include:
- Legal or procedural errors in the current case;
- Violations of the defendant's rights (e.g., illegal search and seizure);
- Improper conduct by prosecution;
- The judge determines the venue is incorrect for the case
Again, suppose a judge dismisses the case without prejudice. In that case, they are leaving the door open for prosecutors to correct errors, make changes, gather new evidence, and refile the charges, possibly in a different court.
An involuntary dismissal is the legal term for when the trial court judge dismisses the case without being asked to do so by the prosecutor. They can be done without prejudice, allowing the prosecutor to refile the case.
Perhaps there are legal errors in the complaint, or the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Maybe the judge determines that their court is an improper venue for the case.
How Does Dismissal Without Prejudice Affect the Statute of Limitations?
It has virtually no effect on the statute of limitations for your alleged crime. It neither stops the clock nor resets it; it's as if the original charges were never filed.
To illustrate, let's assume the statute of limitations for your offense is three years (common for a felony in California), and prosecutors file charges against you a year after the alleged crime occurred. If the case is dismissed without prejudice, prosecutors will have another two years to refile before the statute of limitations expires.
You can contact our California criminal defense lawyers for a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.