case dismissed

What Does “Dismissed Without Prejudice” Mean in Criminal Law?

I receive many phone calls from people saying their case has been dismissed “without prejudice,” and they don’t understand what this means or why it is important. If you have been charged with a crime, getting the case dismissed is a fantastic outcome. This means the case is over, and you are no longer in legal peril based on that criminal case. However, dismissed does not necessarily mean it is over forever.

In most circumstances, a criminal case can be filed at any time before the statute of limitations has expired. This is the time within which a criminal case must be filed in order to be prosecuted. In Utah, the statute of limitations is 4 years for most felonies and 2 years for misdemeanors and infractions. There are exceptions to these limits, but in general, this is the timeframe in which a case must be filed. Once the statute expires, a criminal case cannot be pursued.

In the context of criminal cases, a case can be dismissed “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.” A case dismissed “with prejudice” cannot be re-filed. These cases are dismissed with prejudice to the filing party (the state). Since the state started the case and did not finish it, the court has dismissed it in such a way that the state cannot file it again. On the other hand, a case that was dismissed “without prejudice” can be filed again at any time before the statute of limitations has expired.

There are usually several factors a court will consider when deciding if a case will be dismissed with or without prejudice. One factor is the nature of the case and the complexity of the investigation. The more serious the case or the more difficult it is to investigate, the more likely a court will dismiss it without prejudice to give the state more time to prepare.

Another factor is how much time remains before the statute of limitations expires. If a case was filed years ago, the limit is about to expire, and the state is unable to proceed with its case, then it is more likely that a court will dismiss with prejudice because it has become so unlikely that new or necessary information will be discovered so close to the deadline.

Some other considerations in the “with or without prejudice” determination include:

  • Witness availability and the reasons why a witness was not available at a specific time but may become available in the future.
  • Was the case unnecessarily delayed by either party? And did those delays lead to the basis for dismissal?
  • Was the defendant in or out of custody while the case was moving through the court system?
  • Would the rights of the accused or the rights of the alleged victim be violated by being dismissed with or without prejudice?
  • Would a dismissal in either form be fundamentally unfair to either of the parties?

Whether your case was dismissed with or without prejudice can also affect your ability to expunge the case and have it removed from your criminal history. Many prosecutors will object to an expungement if the statute of limitations has not expired, making it more difficult to expunge these cases.

If you have questions about your case that was dismissed without prejudice, contact the attorneys at Pearson Butler online or at (800) 265-2314. Our Utah defense team can help you determine if more can be done to change that dismissal to one with prejudice and to expunge that case from your criminal history.