Frequently asked questions
How to get a case dismissed before trial?
Depending on the facts of your case, it is possible to get a case dismissed before trial. Criminal charges are frequently dismissed by District Attorneys or the courts.
Skilled criminal attorneys must carefully scrutinize a case, police procedure and evidence to see if there are grounds to get a prosecutor to drop charges before the court date.
Some example legal grounds for dismissal:
- Illegal law enforcement stop or search.
- Lack of probable cause for arrest.
- Insufficient evidence proving defendant committed the alleged crime.
- Improper DA criminal complaint or charging documents.
- Tainting or loss of evidence needed to prove guilt.
- Key witness unavailability or changing of their testimony needed to prove the defendant committed the crime.
In addition to legal grounds for dismissal, there are also practical reasons why a District Attorney may decide to drop charges.
Top criminal lawyers have good relations with the DAs and judges and know how to negotiate dismissal based on practical reasons such as:
- Lack of resources: Prosecutors and courts are often overloaded and looking to allocate resources to higher priority cases. It helps if your case falls into the minor crime, low priority category.
- First time offender: District Attorneys may be persuaded if this is your 1st offense and you’re accused of a minor crime.
- Cooperating with prosecutors: If you are able help prosecutors with another case, they may be open to a deal to dismiss your charges in exchange for assistance.
What are the 6 elements of a crime?
Common law breaks down the elements of crime that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Almost all crimes have at least three elements:
1) A Criminal Act or “Actus Reus”
The definition of Actus Reus is a culpable act or the objective elements of the criminal act. These can be either acts or omissions to act that legislatures have chosen to punish.
Criminal acts are defined in criminal laws such as the California Penal Code.
2) Criminal Intent or “Mens Rea”
Also known as “culpable mind” or “Mens Rea.” The mental element of intending to commit a crime or knowing that an action or lack of action would result in a crime being committed.
Usually a person who acts without mental fault will not be liable under criminal law. The exceptions to this rule are known as “strict liability crimes.”
3) Concurrence of both the Criminal Act and Criminal Intent
Both the criminal act and criminal intent must be present together in order to be liable under criminal law.
If a crime requires a harm or bad result (not all do), prosecutors must also prove two more elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
4) Harm to Victim or Society
5) Causation of Harm by the Criminal Act
There are some crimes where prosecutors must also prove:
6) Attendant Circumstances
Attendant circumstances are additional facts that define the crime. These external circumstances could include the crime’s methodology, victim characteristics, location or setting, among others. For example, in a statutory rape case, the victim’s age is an attendant circumstance.
What is a strict liability crime?
Strict liability crimes are when there is no state-of-mind element that must be proved. Most serious crimes require showing criminal intent. Otherwise every accidental death, including good faith medical procedures, could become grounds for criminal prosecution.
While strict liability is much more common in civil matters, there are some criminal acts that lawmakers have decided to punish no matter what the state of mind.
Examples of strict liability crimes:
- Driving under the influence.
- Statutory rape.
- Selling alcohol to a minor.
- Some traffic offenses such as speeding (i.e. the broken speedometer defense).
There can be defenses to strict liability crimes, but this is a complex area of law requiring a careful legal analysis of possible defenses given the case scenario.