Defendants are sometimes surprised to learn that most New York criminal cases never make it to trial. According to government statistics, less than 10% of criminal cases reach the trial stage, which takes place late in the criminal court process after arraignment and other hearings and appearances. There are many reasons this can occur. For example, a case may not make it to trial if the charges are dropped, or if the case gets dismissed altogether. If you or one of your loved ones was arrested for a felony or misdemeanor in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, or other locations in the New York metropolitan area, contact our experienced Brooklyn assault lawyers to talk about your legal situation in a free consultation. Representation by a skilled defense attorney gives you the best chance of having your charges dropped or your case dismissed.
Who Can File or Drop Felony and Misdemeanor Charges in Queens?
Thanks to inaccurate portrayals in movies and TV shows, there’s a common misconception that crime victims, such as the victims of domestic violence in New York, are able to file or drop charges at will. However, this is not how criminal charges actually work in real life.
The only person who can formally charge a person with committing a crime – and, even more importantly for defendants, the only person who can drop those charges – is the prosecutor handling the case. While the prosecutor will consider the victim’s wishes, among many other factors (which are explained in the next section), it is ultimately the prosecutor’s decision.
In some cases, the judge may decide to overturn the prosecution, leading to dismissal of the case. We’ll explain case dismissals in detail later on, but first, let’s go over some of the reasons a prosecutor might decide that charges shouldn’t be filed in the first place.
Why Would a Prosecutor Decline to File Charges Against an Arrestee?
Some cases are over before they ever begin, because there are situations in which the prosecutor may decline to file charges against the arrestee. After the suspect has been arrested, the prosecutor might decline to file charges if:
- The police violated the arrestee’s Constitutional rights. Police errors like physically abusing a suspect, or performing a search without the necessary consent or search warrant, can lead to a lack of admissible evidence, which seriously compromises the prosecutor’s case.
- The prosecutor is focused on a different defendant. In some cases where multiple defendants allegedly worked together to commit a crime, such as a bank robbery or a hate crime, the prosecutor might decide to drop the charges against one defendant so that he or she can testify against the other defendant.
- The case is a low priority. No prosecutor has limitless resources. He or she might decide that a minor, non-violent offense such as loitering or possessing graffiti instruments, is not worth prosecuting in light of other cases.
- The case gets diverted. New York offers judicial diversion programs that allow non-violent offenders to undergo rehabilitation and supervision in place of criminal prosecution and incarceration. These programs attempt to reduce recidivism and alleviate jail congestion by giving low-risk offenders the chance to receive professional counseling and treatment. If you committed a non-violent offense and do not have a criminal record, you might be a suitable candidate for a diversion program. You should talk to our Brooklyn drug possession lawyers as soon as possible if you have been charged with a crime in New York City.
Charges can be dropped at any point during the criminal process, potentially before a single hearing or court appearance ever takes place. By comparison, a case can be dismissed only after charges have been filed. In other words, charges are dropped willingly and voluntarily by the prosecutor, whereas a dismissal indicates the judge threw the case out despite the prosecutor’s attempts to charge the defendant. Either way, the end result is that the defendant goes free.
That being said, a case which has been dismissed can potentially be refiled in the future. This does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which is explained below in greater detail, because the defendant was not found not guilty during the original proceedings.
Reasons a Criminal Case Could Be Dismissed in Brooklyn Before Trial
Even if the prosecutor does decide to file charges, there may still be a chance the case could be dismissed, depending on the details of the situation. There are numerous reasons a criminal case might be dismissed in New York City. Prosecutors and judges will consider the following factors, where applicable, when evaluating a criminal case:
- Probable cause. Probable cause is one of the single most important factors that impacts case dismissals. Long before a trial can be scheduled, the prosecutor must prove there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime. The case must be dismissed if the prosecutor, who carries the burden of proof, is unable to show probable cause.
- Motions to dismiss. Before a trial begins, the prosecution and defense will both have opportunities to file various “pre-trial motions.” A pre-trial motion is a legal document that serves as a formal request to the court – for example, a motion to suppress evidence. NY Criminal Procedure Law § 255.10 lists seven types of motions, including motions for dismissing or reducing an indictment (felony charge).
- Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). In some misdemeanor cases, the prosecutor might offer an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). This means the case will be adjourned, or suspended, for a certain period of time (typically six months). If the defendant is not charged with any additional crimes during this period, the charges against him or her will be dismissed.
- Prosecutorial misconduct. While most prosecutors act ethically and professionally, there have been cases of prosecutors engaging in unethical and illegal tactics to obtain a conviction. If a prosecutor engages in egregious misconduct, such as using falsified evidence, the case could be dismissed.
- Availability and willingness of witnesses. In cases where little physical evidence or video footage is available, witness testimony becomes vitally important. If a witness cannot be located or refuses to cooperate, the prosecutor’s case against the defendant can crumble.
- New information sheds light on the case. Sometimes during a criminal case, important new information arises that throws a wrench in the prior proceedings. For example, a witness might reveal that he or she was lying about witnessing a burglary in Queens, or a new forensic analysis could reveal that blood stains, saliva, hair, or other traces of evidence couldn’t have come from the defendant.
- Violations of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Double Jeopardy is more than just a game show buzzword. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that no defendant can be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” meaning no defendant can be tried twice for the same offense. A defendant can be tried twice for the same kind of offense (e.g. prostitution charges in Manhattan on two separate occasions), or receive a new trial after a hung jury results in a mistrial, but cannot be prosecuted twice for the same incident.
Will I Have a Criminal Record if My Case Gets Dismissed in New York City?
If your case gets dismissed, it means you were not convicted. As a result, there will be no record of a criminal conviction. However, there will still be a record of your arrest.
That being said, your record should be sealed following the dismissal, which means it will not be accessible to members of the general public, including most prospective employers – with some narrow exceptions. For instance, your record will remain on file accessible to courts and law enforcement. If you ever apply to become a police officer in the future, or are charged with another crime, law enforcement and criminal courts will be able to refer to your record.
NY Criminal Procedure § 160.60(1) provides that when a case is dismissed, the record of the proceedings should be sealed by the clerk of the court where the proceedings took place. The clerk is also required to immediately notify the police, as well as the commissioner of the division of criminal justice services, that the case was dismissed. However, the record may be unsealed if the court finds good reason.
Schedule a Free Legal Consultation with Our New York Criminal Defense Attorneys
The NYC criminal lawyers of Sullivan & Galleshaw have more than 30 years of experience representing defendants charged with felonies and misdemeanors in New York City. We have helped obtain numerous case dismissals for clients who were facing extremely serious charges. We may be able to help have your charges dropped, obtain a sentence reduction, or have felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor.
If you or one of your loved ones was arrested in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, or the New York metropolitan area, it is critically important that you seek skilled and aggressive legal representation immediately. Call the law offices of Sullivan & Galleshaw right away at (800) 730-0135 to set up a free legal consultation. We will keep your information confidential.