If I were charged with a crime, I’d definitely want my case dismissed. That would be a great outcome, and would save me a lot of trouble, maybe some jail time, a criminal record, and several trips to the probation office. So I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised when so many of my clients tell me that they’d like their cases dismissed. Of course they would. It makes sense. But what does surprise me is how easy clients seem to think it should be for me to get their cases dismissed. In their minds, since they didn’t do what they’re charged with, I should be able to explain that to the prosecutor or the judge, and voila, the case disappears. Ah, if only things were that easy, I could spend a lot more time on the golf course. The reality is that, whether you’re charged with a DUI, assault, solicitation, or any other misdemeanor or felony in Washington, D.C., it is very rare that your case simply gets dismissed without your criminal defense lawyer doing a whole lot of work.

Getting a case dismissed is not usually accomplished by simply explaining to the assigned prosecutor that my client claims they are innocent, and that dismissal is therefore appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve accomplished that before, but not without sitting my client down with the prosecutor, and having her tell the prosecutor her story. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been willing to do that, because the general rule of thumb is that criminal defense attorneys do not let their clients talk directly to prosecutors. It’s almost always a bad idea. Of course, when it works, everyone is happy.

Rare client/prosecutor meetings aside, getting criminal cases dismissed almost always requires that the case be scheduled for trial. In Washington, D.C., the most common basis for dismissal of a case is something called “dismissal for want of prosecution.” That’s a fancy way to say that the government was not ready for trial on the day the case was scheduled, and they don’t have a good reason for not being ready. This dismissal comes from the judge, not the prosecutor, and often is done over the prosecutor’s objection. Many times your defense lawyer won’t actually know why the government wasn’t ready, and most of the time we don’t care. Whether a witness didn’t cooperate, there was a flaw in the chain of custody of a piece of evidence, or the over-burdened prosecutor just hadn’t prepared the case for trial, a dismissal for want of prosecution is not possible without setting the case for trial. What this also means is that your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer had to spend the time and labor preparing for trial. That’s because the government rarely tells the defense ahead of time that they won’t be ready. And any defense attorney who decides they aren’t going to prepare for trial because they are hoping for a dismissal is taking a huge gamble with your life, and his or her law license.

Perhaps the second most common path to getting your Washington, D.C. misdemeanor or felony dismissed is by forcing the government to provide every piece of evidence that you are entitled to. By putting pressure on the government to constantly respond to discovery requests, a defense attorney can sometime catch a prosecutor sleeping. Well-documented discovery requests that are not responded to can sometimes be used to convince a judge that a prosecutor has failed to follow the rules, and that violation has prejudiced the defendant. And while it is an extreme sanction, judges may decide that dismissal of the case is an appropriate remedy. But again, this type of dismissal does not simply fall from the sky. It is created by 1) setting a case for trial and 2) aggressively preparing for trial. Dismissals don’t magically appear by snapping one’s fingers or wishing on a star.

Of course, the majority of criminal cases are not dismissed without some type of diversion agreement, and many cases end in plea agreements or a verdict from a judge or jury. Any chance of obtaining a dismissal, however, comes from having a criminal defense attorney who will vigorously defend his or her client. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Washington, D.C., contact Trial Attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson for a case evaluation.