Why are criminal cases dismissed?

Today I had two cases dismissed (scoreboarding disclaimer). Let’s discuss why criminal cases are dismissed.

First, let me offer 3 categories of problems that lead to dismissals- factual, legal, and logistical. The first two categories are self explanatory. Logistical problems include actually getting the evidence (or witnesses) in front of a jury.

Legal issues arise from research. Factual issues from investigation. Logistical issues require a deadline and can be manufactured.

Every case that pleads represents the easiest logistical outcome for the State. With a plea the State doesn’t have to put the show together. Only by creating urgency (setting the case for trial/pre trial) can you benefit from logistical problems.

Prosecutors appreciate the risk and work involved in contested hearings. Some DAs office even have official retribution policies for pre trial/trial settings. One example- Ellis County prosecutors routinely withdraws all plea bargain offers if you set a pre trial hearing. That policy, combined with a closed file/no discovery policy is a recipe for injustice. It is also a recognition that a case may be great on paper, but can and will fall apart in court.

Back to today’s dismissals. I had a family violence case set for trial. It was not clear if the witnesses would show for trial (logisitcal), the DA has buckets full of other cases to prep for (logistical), the evidence against my client was flimsy (factual), finally my client had a defense for his use of force (legal). The case was dismissed.

Dismissing a case with a “victim” is never easy. No DA wants an angry victim talking to the media about the uncaring DAs office. It’s much easier to dismiss a dope case than an assault or theft case.

My second dismissal was a state jail possession case. This was mostly factual. A typical LEO tactic is to arrest everyone in a car when drugs are found. Arrest em all, let the DA sort it out. In this case the factual buck was passed to me. Only after reviewing the reports and video did I have the factual ammo to request a dismissal. The ADA agreed with my assessment and dismissed the case.

The dope case was never set for a contested hearing. Many factually weak cases aren’t. It’s one reason that a defense lawyer’s trial win/loss stats are misleading. Many of the cases I could win at trial, are never tried. As much as I rail against prosecutors many do the right thing with bad cases and dismiss.

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5 responses to “Why are criminal cases dismissed?”

  1. Robert Guest says:

    Suppressing the blood test does not mean the case has to be dismissed. I’m not sure what other evidence the DA has. The case can still go forward on the “loss of physical/mental faculties” intoxication standard.

    The Fort Worth court of appeal will probably overrule the trial court’s suppression. This is a DWI cases and Texas appellate courts hate DWI defendants.

    Finally, Mark Daniel is a great lawyer. I own the Texas criminal practice guide he co authored. He knows what he’s doing.

  2. What exactly do you mean “closed file/no discovery policy”? I didn’t think that was constitutional. Aren’t there state laws/court rules requiring the state to disclose evidence?

  3. Robert Guest says:

    Texas has limited required discovery in criminal cases.

    There are two important things criminal defendants have no right to-
    1. police reports
    2. witness statements
    In Ellis County they will not turn over their evidence in a case. Their doltish policy is for prosecutors to read the report to the defense lawyer. It’s awful.

    If you want any discovery materials you have to set the case for a pre trial hearing.

    Guess what? Ellis County has another policy. No plea bargains for cases set for pre trial hearings.

    You can plead your client guilty without any evidence, or you can actually get discovery but lose out on potential plea offers.

    If you were designing a system to convict the innocent, a closed file policy would be the place to start.

  4. Beverly Lanfear says:

    Another discovery reform bill has been filed once again. Not sure what the rate is on innocent people being convicted; (I was told by a defense attorney 25% of the people convicted in Texas are in fact innocent) There is no doubt in my mind we need this bill to pass.

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