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Everything You Need to Know About Dismissed Cases

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Standing up to false or weak allegations is scary, even when you know the court might dismiss the case.

Here’s what you need to know about case dismissals and what to expect in the process.


What Is a Dismissed Case?

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When a court “dismisses” a criminal case, they end the court case without convicting the defendant for the charges.

Many circumstances might lead to the decision to dismiss a case, including:

  • The defendant motions to dismiss the case. To do this a defendant must invoke FRCP Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 (FRCP), explained below.
  • The plaintiff files for a voluntary dismissal. The plaintiff can do this with or without a court order under FRCP 41.

Note: An involuntary dismissal occurs if the plaintiff fails to abide by the court’s rules.

  • The plaintiff and defendant agree on a settlement offer. The defendant’s law firm can serve the plaintiff a settlement offer 14 days before trial. If the plaintiff accepts the terms, they must provide written notice of their acceptance. Filing this written notice and proof of service will result in dismissal.

Settlements are by far the most common reason why a case gets dismissed. More than 97% of federal lawsuits are closed due to dismissal for this reason.

Difference Between Charges Reduced and Dismissed

You might confuse a dismissal with having the charges against you reduced.

Reduced charges often occur because the criminal defense lawyer can’t get the charges dropped or dismissed. The most common way legal teams go about this is to secure a plea bargain.

With a plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilty to a less severe charge.

For example, the court might convict the defendant for a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The defendant then faces a smaller sentence and a better outcome than they would have had otherwise.

If the court dismisses the charges, you are not pleading guilty to anything. In this case, you do not face any sentence at all.

Different Kinds of Dismissed Cases

There are several types of dismissed cases you may experience. The differences come from the legal context and potential for follow-up action.

Here are the types of dismissed cases and what you need to know about each: 

  • Dismissal with prejudice: The plaintiff cannot pursue another lawsuit on the same grounds.
  • Dismissed without prejudice: This occurs if the defendant fails to uphold the obligations outlined in the accepted settlement. In this case, the plaintiff still has the right to file another lawsuit on the same grounds at a later date. However, this date must fall within the statute of limitations.
  • Dismissed for want of prosecution: If any party that received notice of the trial date and time fails to show up, the case will be dismissed under this category. This also happens if there is no progress on your case for an extended period. Under this type, either party can request to reinstate the case.

Ideally, your criminal defense attorney wants to get your case dismissed with prejudice because it means that you will not be charged again for the same thing. 

However, the final decision on what type of dismissal is up to the judge. Still, you can make a strong case for the best dismissal option with a skilled attorney.

Reasons for Cases Being Dismissed

As noted above, there are many reasons why a trial may end with a dismissed case.

Something might come up on either the defendant’s or plaintiff’s side that weakens the argument against you (e.g., insufficient evidence).

Other circumstances might prevent someone from attending the trial date.

There are also specific legal reasons that allow a defendant to motion for dismissal under the FRCP 12, including those described below.

Lack of Jurisdiction

The defendant can argue that a judge does not have the legal authority to resolve a specific type of dispute or deliver a relevant resolution. This process is known as “adjudication.”

There are two instances where this occurs. One concerns the case’s subject matter, and the other relates to the defendant.

If the defendant argues for adjudication based on the subject matter, they say that the court does not have the authority to preside over that particular type of claim.

The defendant can raise this objection at any point in the litigation process, and it cannot be waived.

On the other hand, the defendant can also claim a lack of personal jurisdiction. This means that the court does not have the power to decide on that individual.

For instance, say the plaintiff failed to serve the defendant in that court’s state, and the defendant does not appear voluntarily. In this case, there is no personal jurisdiction.

Improper Venue

If the trial is held in a location that the defendant believes is inappropriate for the case, they may move to dismiss based on improper venue.

Typically, this individual then needs to suggest an alternative site. They can suggest moving the trial to a location within their residential county or to where they allegedly committed the offense.

For the court to approve this, the defendant’s claims must be more reasonable than the plaintiff’s for “assertion of venue”.

Problems with Process

The service of process is the action of delivering the process (the court summons document, and a copy of the plaintiff’s complaint) to the defendant directly.

It is a critical step leading to the trial. The defendant’s receipt of the process determines whether the court can exercise personal jurisdiction over them.

It’s not enough to mail the process either. Normally, the plaintiff is required to hand the documents to the defendant in person or to have someone do it on their behalf.

The defendant can also motion for a dismissal based on “insufficient process“. This is not the same as service of process! Insufficient process concerns the form of the documents rather than how they were delivered. 

Failure to State a Claim

In some cases, a plaintiff may be entirely truthful in all the allegations made against the defendant.

The problem then occurs when those allegations do not provide a sound foundation for establishing a cause of action.

In other words, the charges are so vague or disjointed that the defending party cannot come up with a legal remedy.

Failure to Join a Party

The court can also require that an individual who’s subject to the service of process have a “joinder.” This is someone who won’t impede on the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.

Still, the court needs them to resolve the case and have an interest in the case’s resolution or other qualifiers.

Failure to comply with this requirement can be the basis for a dismissed case.

What Happens If a Case Is Dismissed?

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The process of dismissal may vary depending on who initiates it.

For instance, if the defendant requests the dismissal, it would unfold like this:

  • The defendant files the motion in court and serves it to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff has the opportunity to respond to the motion within two weeks.
  • The judge reviews statements from both parties.
  • The judge announces the court’s decision on the motion during a hearing.

When a plaintiff requests a dismissal, they don’t have to wait for the defendant to file their answer to the complaint.

The court can also decide to dismiss the case without either side prompting it. This is known as “sua sponte” and still requires reasonable grounds to dismiss.

In any case, you might still have problems with your record even after a case is dismissed. Dismissed cases will stay on your criminal record. So, you should consider the option to “seal” them.

This is different from expungement. It means that anyone who wants to see your legal file’s contents will need a court order.

This is because, after sealing, your details are not readily available on public records.

Frequently Asked Questions

Legal proceedings can be confusing, so it’s normal if you still have a few questions. Here are the most common inquiries on dismissed cases.

What does it mean when a case is dismissed?

A dismissed case is one that is completed without convicting the defendant for the charges.

Can a dismissed case be reopened?

A dismissed case can be reopened if it is “without prejudice” or “for want of prosecution.”

Do employers care about dismissed charges?

Employers do not look at dismissed charges on a background check in the same way they do convictions. This is because they understand that you were innocent or there was not enough evidence to convict.

You may still face some employment challenges, so JobsForFelonsHub.com is here to help.


It’s scary to face criminal charges even when you know you’re innocent. Thankfully, it’s unlikely that the court will convict you based on empty allegations.

So, these circumstances may lead to a dismissed case. You won’t be convicted for the charges, allowing you to walk free.

When you’re ready to return to the workforce following a dismissal, you might face challenges in securing a job, especially if you have a criminal past.

If this is your reality, turn to JobsForFelonsHub.com. There, you can find work, housing, and reentry programs to help get your life back on track.

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