What Happens When a Case is Dismissed in an Arizona Court?


When charged with a crime, most people have the same initial reaction. How do I make this go away?

While it’s certainly possible to get your case dismissed, and you may even be able to have the charges dropped before the case goes to court, doing so will require the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Failure to close your case properly could leave the door open for someone to reopen your case in the future.

Voluntary vs Involuntary Dismissal

Cases are voluntarily dismissed when the prosecuting party chooses to dismiss the case. In criminal cases, that would be the county prosecutor or district attorney. In civil cases, the prosecuting party would be the individual or organization that filed the lawsuit.

The victim in a criminal case may influence a prosecutor’s decision to voluntarily dismiss a case, but the decision ultimately rests with the prosecutor. As a result, you may see cases where the district attorney chooses to pursue a case after the victim declines to press charges. In contrast, the victim in a civil lawsuit is the prosecuting party, and therefore retains the right to have the case voluntarily dismissed at any time.

When a case is involuntarily dismissed, the judge chooses to dismiss the case against the wishes of the prosecution. This usually takes place when the defense files a motion to dismiss based on a legal reason, such as lack of evidence.

Dismissal With Prejudice

At first glance, you might think this has something to do with discrimination or an impartial judge. In reality, it’s nothing of the sort.

Having a case dismissed with or without prejudice determines whether or not a case is permanently closed. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, it’s closed for good. Neither party can reopen the case at a later date, and the matter is considered permanently resolved. On the other hand, dismissing a case without prejudice leaves the door open for the case to be reopened down the road. 

Generally speaking, dismissing a case with prejudice is good news for the defendant in a case as it closes the matter indefinitely. Even if the prosecution discovers additional evidence or finds a credible witness, they would not be permitted to reopen the case. 

Under the same logic, dismissing a case without prejudice may be good news to the prosecution. Dismissal without prejudice is common when judges issue an involuntary dismissal due to a legal issue, as it provides the prosecution the opportunity to remedy the issue and try again.

Factors That May Result in Dismissing a Case

There are a number of factors that may result in a prosecutor or judge agreeing to dismiss your case. Some common reasons for dismissal include:

  • Insufficient evidence – in some cases your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor that there isn’t enough evidence to build a solid case, leading to the prosecutor dropping charges before filing. In other cases, your attorney may be able to present compelling evidence that contradicts the police report. If the prosecutor decides to proceed with the case despite insufficient evidence, your attorney can file a motion with the judge to have the case dismissed based on insufficient evidence.
  • Fourth Amendment violations – as a US citizen, you’re protected against unlawful searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment. Any evidence obtained in the course of an unlawful search is inadmissible in court. While illegal search and seizure on its own may not serve as grounds to dismiss your case, it may be enough to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges if key evidence is deemed inadmissible.
  • Breach of protocol – prosecutors and law enforcement officials are bound by strict protocol during an arrest, booking, interrogation, bail hearing, or pretrial activities. When your rights are violated due to a breach of protocol, this may serve as grounds to dismiss the case against you.  
  • Inadmissible testimony – the most popular example of inadmissible testimony is when the arresting officer fails to read your Miranda Rights before extracting a confession. Though it may not be grounds to dismiss your case automatically, that would disqualify your testimony from being used in court. Unless the prosecutor comes up with other testimony or evidence, they may not be able to build a solid case, in which case the judge may grant a dismissal due to insufficient evidence.  
  • Lack of resources – at the end of the day, law enforcement and the district attorney’s office only have so much time and resources to pursue cases. If their plate is full, your attorney may be able to negotiate a deal to have your charges dropped or reduced to avoid the hassle of going to trial.

Dismissal After a Mistrial

When a jury fails to deliver an unanimous verdict, the defense may file a motion to declare a mistrial. The judge may ask the jury to take additional time to deliberate and attempt to reach a verdict, but if it becomes clear that an unanimous verdict is out of the question, the judge will declare a mistrial. When this occurs, one of three things will happen:

  • The court may schedule another trial on the same charges
  • The prosecutor may attempt to reach a private agreement or plea bargain with the defendant
  • The prosecutor may voluntarily agree to dismiss the charges

Should you find yourself in the latter scenario, your attorney should push to have the charges dismissed with prejudice. Failure to do so would leave the door open for the prosecutor to reopen the case down the road.

Expunging an Arrest From Your Criminal Record

So, you’ve successfully had the charges against you dropped or dismissed. What happens next?

The good news is you won’t be subject to any legal consequences (unless you agreed to counseling or other reparations as part of a plea deal). The bad news is while your criminal record won’t list a conviction, your arrest remains on record — for now. 

To clear your record, you’ll have to request an expungement. The process typically takes 4 – 6 months, and is best handled with the assistance of an attorney. It’s a critical step that’s often overlooked, and can seriously harm your career if it isn’t handled promptly. Employers are reluctant to hire, retain, or promote employees who may be a liability to the company, and individuals with an arrest on their record often find themselves on the chopping block, even when the charges were dismissed or dropped.

Receive Help Getting Your Arizona Criminal Case Dismissed

While an attorney cannot guarantee that they can get your case dismissed, a good Arizona criminal defense attorney will know every single little detail that will help you receive the best outcome possible. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys at JacksonWhite have helped hundreds of Arizonans get their criminal charges dismissed and put behind them.

While being charged with a crime may be demoralizing, the best thing do now is plan for your future. Your future does not have to involve you sitting behind bars, paying big fines, or having a criminal charge follow you the rest of your life.


Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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