How to Get Charges Dismissed in a Criminal Case

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If you ever find yourself facing criminal charges, whether an infraction, misdemeanor or felony, the best possible outcome would be to get the charges dropped. Charges can be dismissed at any point between arrest and conviction. Although obtaining an innocent verdict is good, getting charges dismissed saves time and litigation costs. Depending on your situation, the steps range in complexity, but there are a few simple guidelines to follow to have criminal charges dismissed.

Learn about the specific charge you are facing. You can do this by reading the statute the prosecution is charging you with. Criminal law statutes will set out each element of a crime; you can only be charged and convicted of the crime if you have fulfilled each and every element of that crime. For example, in many states, the legal definition of theft is "unlawfully appropriating property with intent to deprive the owner of property." If you can prove that you took someone else's property, but only had the intention of borrowing it and not of depriving the owner of it, then you can request that your charge be dismissed. Note that the request must be made to the judge, who has the final say in this matter. Some mistakenly believe that the prosecutor determines this question. Not so--the judge makes the final determination. In most cases, the judge agrees with the prosecutor's office if it decides to drop charges. Even so, the prosecutor's duty is to prosecute a case and obtain a guilty verdict if justice demands it, so the prosecutor's office will rarely drop criminal charges.The burden is therefore on the defendant to request the judge dismiss the charges if he believes he is innocent of the crime.

Read the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and determine whether or not the police violated your constitutional rights during or after arrest. All citizens have a right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and law enforcement must always have probable cause before it can search you or your property. Police are also required to read you your Miranda rights while you are in custody, and all interrogation must cease if you request a lawyer. If the police failed to read you the Miranda Warning while you were in custody, or if they gathered evidence against you illegally by failing to produce a search warrant when one was required, then you may have a case for getting your charges discharged.

Do legal research on cases similar to yours. You can do an online search of any number of legal databases, using search terms involving the particular crime you are charged with and any constitutional or statutory issues you think are relevant. Read these cases carefully, familiarize yourself with the legal issues and arguments involved, and try to determine whether or not they would apply successfully in your case. If you are being tried in a federal court, be sure to focus on federal law; if you are being charged in a state court, research the law of your particular state. Of course, a U.S. Supreme Court case would carry the greatest weight and authority in any court, so if you find one that is pertinent to your case, use it.


  • Criminal charges are serious and a conviction can adversely affect the rest of your life. Consider consluting with a licensed attorney specializing in criminal law.



About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Christine Niles started writing in 1994. She has been published in "The Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy," the "ND Observer" and various Web sites. Niles has a Master of Studies in theology from Oxford University and a Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School.