What Are the Common Reasons a Case Can Be Dismissed Pre-Trial?
A dismissal is known as a Nolle Prosse. There are also a couple of other situations in Maryland where you have different dispositions. A probation before judgment, that’s Maryland second chance statute. What happens in a probation before a judgment is a person will be either plead guilty or be found guilty. The attorney will present mitigating evidence on behalf of the client, show that the client doesn’t have a record or a serious record, and that it would be in the best interest of society not to saddle this person with a conviction. That can end up with the probation before judgment. Somebody ends up getting put on probation, they may pay fines, or they may have a suspended jail sentence. Then if they complete their probation, this does not operate as a conviction and they face no further consequences.
There is also what’s known as the STET, which is one step better than the probation before a judgment because you don’t have a case going to trial or plea. Instead, you actually have the state agreeing to put the case on an inactive docket. If it goes on a STET docket, the state or the defendant can bring this back to trial for any reason within one year. The state could bring it back for good cause shown after a year, but that would need a court order and a very good reason to reinstitute the proceeding, which is essentially dropped. The third is the Nolle Prosse, which is where the state decides we are not going to go forward with this case whatsoever. The decision on those are up to the state. Usually, a case gets dismissed or gets put on the STET docket because the state will have trouble proving their case. Sometimes witnesses don’t show up, sometimes proof isn’t available, sometimes the evidence is compromised. All of these are cases where a case can be dismissed. My favorite reason to get a case dismissed is when a police officer is fired from the job or no longer there to testify against you.
What Actually Happens When A Criminal Case Goes To Trial?
What happens in a criminal trial will vary on each individual case. The state has to call witnesses, they have to get people and put people on the stand and say, “I saw this,” or, “I’m aware of this fact and I have personal knowledge of this fact,” or, “I have good circumstantial evidence that proves that the defendant did a specific act that makes him guilty.” As you go through, typically the state will call the police officers to testify, and they will testify about several things. Sometimes they’ll testify about evidence that is not permissible in court. The attorney needs to object to that evidence. Sometimes an attorney will file or request a motion to suppress evidence. If you have a confession that you took before the officer told you that you had a right to remain silent, then a lot of times that confession can overturned.
In a circuit court, there is a pre-trial hearing where you show up, the police officer puts his statements on the stand, and you argue to the judge why this statement shouldn’t be used in the trial. In the district court, it’s done on the fly. You have an officer start to testify about a confession, you ask the judge for a motion to suppress, then you actually have a trial within a trial. At that time, they go through to see if that a statement that the judge can hear in the case, and if not, that can be a very big part of a case. The police may also put in evidence. They can put in pictures that they have of the scene. In certain situations, they’ll put in evidence that’s taken from social media, somebody’s Facebook posts or somebody’s Twitter account where they said something. They can call other witnesses, laypeople who are witnesses to a crime or people who are victims of a crime.
The state has their right to go through. At the end of the state’s case, typically a good defense attorney will try to make a motion for judgment and make an argument that the state has not met its burden. Every crime has certain elements that they have to prove. If you are stealing something, besides the fact that you pick up something, you have to know that you are stealing it. You have to know that it belongs to somebody else, you have to have an intent to deprive somebody of that. I pick up your wallet off of the ground, and if I look at it and I want to give it back to you, I haven’t stolen the wallet. If the state tries to prosecute me on this, they can show that I picked up the wallet, which is one of their elements that are required that I held onto the wallet, but they also had to prove that I took it wrongfully and that I intended not to return it.
If you can knock out one of the elements of a crime, any judge should be able to say “not guilty.” After the state puts on their case and you have your chance to challenge that, if the judge gets the trial to go forward, then you can present evidence. The client can testify. He has the right to not testify and not have that held against them. Client may have other witnesses to the events that led up to the criminal charges that they can have testify to have mitigating evidence. You can have other mitigating evidence coming in. For instance, I had a client who had a situation where his accelerator stuck in his vehicle and he had drunk some alcohol that day and he ended up getting a DUI based off of the accident that happened from his accelerator sticking.
As he woke up, he can find that this is the common problem. In that case, the testimony of the mechanic who finds this problem and repairs that problem is going to be crucial to that evidence. After you get through your evidence, then there are arguments by both counsels. The state will argue that you are guilty, I will argue that you are not guilty, and the judge will make the ultimate decision as to whether or not you’re proven guilty beyond the reasonable doubt. Once the guilt has been found or if there is a not guilty finding, we walk out of the courtroom, and I grab some expungement forms to have my client get the charges taken off his record permanently. If we are found guilty, then we go into the next stage of the proceeding, which is the sentencing. In most criminal trials, sentencing takes place immediately. In some criminal trials, sentencing will take place at a later date.
In Felony cases or major cases, you have the right to request for a pre-sentence investigation where probation officers meet with you, find out your job, find out your background, interview witnesses, and make a recommendation for the state as far as the sentence is concerned. That can delay the proceeding for a considerable time. When you walk in for the sentencing, the prosecutor is going to tell the judge about your criminal record, about any blemishes that they find in what you have done, and also the facts for the crime, which are the most important. Of course, your attorney will present evidence that’s mitigating to show that you are a good person, that you have a job, that you have a college education, or you have a good life. What the state is asking is reasonable, and then after that, the judge makes a decision. That’s the basic frame of the criminal trial.
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