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There are a number of documents commonly filed in both civil and criminal cases. Among the documents frequently filed are petitions, complaints, motions, and orders. The parties to a legal case may file petitions, complaints, and motions; however, only a judge may officially sign and enter an order. An order for dismissal is a final order filed in either a civil or criminal legal case that effectively terminates the legal proceedings.
In a civil lawsuit, a motion to dismiss may be filed by the defendant for a number of legal reasons. Within the United States, a civil complaint begins when the plaintiff files a petition or complaint with the appropriate court. The defendant may immediately file a motion to dismiss based on one of several legal reasons, including lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. If the judge agrees with the defendant's motion, then an order for dismissal will be granted and entered.
A motion to dismiss may also be filed later on in civil proceedings. Once a civil lawsuit has been filed, a process known as discovery takes place, where each side is allowed to get an idea what the other side's evidence will be at trial. If, after discovery is complete, the defendant believes that the plaintiff cannot prove his or her case, he or she may ask the judge for an order for dismissal. Again, if the judge is convinced that the defendant is right, then an order to dismiss will be entered and the case is terminated.
In a civil lawsuit, a dismissal order may be either with prejudice or without prejudice. An order for dismissal entered with prejudice effectively tells the plaintiff that he or she may not refile the lawsuit. When the order is entered without prejudice, the plaintiff has the option to re-file the lawsuit at a later time.
An order for dismissal may also be filed in a criminal case. In this case, all or some of the charges against the defendant will be dismissed. If the defendant has accepted a guilty plea, the terms of the plea agreement may call for some of the charges to be dismissed, which requires a formal entry by the judge. In situations where the prosecution determines that it no longer wishes to pursue the charges or lacks sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of all the charges, then an order for dismissal of all charges will be entered by the judge.
I'm glad the law allows for the dismissal of charges, but I wonder sometimes how that is determined. It has always sounded kind of nebulous to me. Who determines how much evidence is needed to get a conviction?
I've seen some murder cases go to trial on some pretty shaky circumstantial evidence, and the defendant was acquitted. Why didn't the defense attorney just ask for a motion to dismiss, and if it was denied, why? What did the judge see in the case? I'm not an attorney, so I don't know all the ins and outs of this kind of thing, but I'd be really interested in finding out the judge's reasoning, sometimes.
I never understood why the legal profession dismisses charges with or without prejudice. Why not say with or without the option to re-file? The term "prejudice" no longer means what it used to mean, and it seems like that's one term that should be modernized to be a better fit with what's actually going on.
I remember hearing the military jargon, "terminate with extreme prejudice." I knew that meant to kill someone. I guess it comes from the legal term that, if they terminate with extreme prejudice, there's no coming back from the injury. Maybe that's where they got it.
Anyway, in my opinion, it's one of those legal terms that has become meaningless, unless you're in the legal profession.