Understanding Legal Challenges

Can You Have A Criminal Case Thrown Out?

A judge has the power to dismiss a criminal case if they feel it is fundamentally flawed or unlikely to produce a conviction. People often call this throwing a case out. For a criminal lawyer, it represents the best possible outcome for a client outside of the cops never filing charges.

Clients often wonder if they can have a case tossed. Here is what it means for a judge to dismiss charges, why they might do it, and how you can ask one to do so.


In criminal law, the prosecution has to submit a sustainable case. American courts frown upon charging people if there isn't a good chance of the case producing a conviction. Consequently, a judge may want to dismiss a case if the prosecutors or police messed something up severely.

For example, imagine a scenario involving drug trafficking charges. The police crime lab, however, can't produce logs showing who handled what the police allege to be drugs. How can the police confirm what they're putting up as evidence was what they seized? Further, how can they prove someone didn't tamper with the evidence? If the alleged drugs are central to the case, a criminal attorney might ask the court to dismiss it after learning about the mishandling.

There are also legal arguments for dismissals. Suppose the cops charged someone with assault. However, the evidence points to the defendant acting in self-defense. If the judge believes the prosecution has a weak case, they may dismiss the charges. Bear in mind, though, this is solely at the judge's discretion.

Consequences of Dismissed Charges

The likely outcome depends on how big of a case the prosecution has. In a small case with few charges, such as the previous assault hypothetical, it probably means the whole thing goes away.

However, prosecutors like to overcharge cases. If they bring an embezzlement case, for example, they'll probably prosecute everything from wire and mail fraud to criminal misuse of a communication device. The dismissal of several charges doesn't presume the dismissal of all of them.

How to Ask

As a matter of good practice, a criminal lawyer will rarely pass up the opportunity to ask for a dismissal. The defense has the right to question police officers, lab technicians, and other investigative parties during hearings before there is ever a trial. If there's something off about the case, a criminal attorney will move for the judge to dismiss the charges. The judge will then decide. Also, if new evidence emerges even during a trial, you have the right to ask again. For more information, contact a criminal attorney.