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Just like every crime has different circumstances, so is each criminal case a little different. While you may associate criminal court with the dramatic trials seen on television and in the movies, in reality, the majority of criminal cases do not go to a trial. Additionally, simply because certain criminal charges are filed does not mean that they cannot be amended, increased, decreased, or even completely dismissed. A dismissal is a favorable result that can occur for many different reasons in a criminal case and the following are only some reasons why a case may be dropped or dismissed:

  • Unlawful traffic stop – Law enforcement officers also cannot simply stop any cars they wish for no apparent reason, as individuals have the right against unreasonable seizure under the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.1 If a traffic stop occurred without reasonable suspicion that a violation of law had been committed, any charges stemming from that traffic stop may be dropped.
  • Improper arrest – An arrest is also a seizure and, in order to lawfully arrest someone, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause2 to believe they have committed a crime based on objective and factual circumstances. If an officer arrests a person based on a mere hunch, the case may be dismissed.
  • Unlawful search – The 4th Amendment further prevents police from conducting a search of any person, vehicle, or home whenever they choose. Instead, certain requirements must be met in order for officers to search for evidence of a crime. If a search violated a person’s constitutional rights, any evidence that resulted from the search should be unlawful. Without that evidence, prosecutors often have little concrete evidence with which to convict someone and may drop the case.
  • Mistakes in the complaint – The law sets out the requirements for the contents of a criminal complaint (also known as a charging document), including the requirement that it is truthful. If the complaint contains a substantial omission or error, the complaint may have to be dismissed.
  • Lack of evidence – Under some circumstances, a person will be arrested and charged, yet a judge or grand jury will decide that the prosecutor does not actually have sufficient evidence with which to establish probable cause of the criminal charge. In such cases, the prosecutor will not be able to proceed with the charges. Additionally, even if the prosecutor initially has sufficient evidence, this can change over the course of the criminal case. For example, if a prosecutor loses evidence or if a witness becomes unavailable or changes their testimony, the prosecutor may drop the charges if such evidence was critical for obtaining a conviction.
  • Prosecutorial discretion – In some cases, a prosecutor may review a case and find that extenuating circumstances warrant the dismissal of one or all charges and may simply use their discretion to dismiss the case.

In some circumstances, a prosecutor may dismiss a case “without prejudice,” which means they have the opportunity to file the charges again if they choose, as long as it is within the statute of limitations for that particular offense. If a prosecutor then finds additional evidence or there is another change in circumstances, a defendant could then face the charges again at a later date.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will understand the many ways a case can be dismissed and will know how to present evidence and arguments to try to get a case dropped whenever possible. If later charges do arise, the attorney can protect your rights and still strive for the most favorable result possible.

Contact an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible

At The Zeiger Firm in Philadelphia, we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to handling our cases. Instead, experienced criminal defense lawyer Brian Zeiger will fully evaluate your case and tailor a defense strategy specific to your situation. No matter what strategy is taken, however, The Zeiger Firm will always strive for the most favorable results in your case, whether that is a dismissal, a favorable plea bargain, or an acquittal at trial. We handle all types of criminal matters from a seemingly minor traffic ticket to DUI to violent crimes and other felonies. No matter what type of criminal charge or citation you are facing, please call or office at 215-546-0340 to learn more about how we can assist you in your case.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.