What is a Felony Dismissal?

When felony charges are brought upon an individual it is easy for panic to set in. It is easy to be afraid of what’s to come. Prison time, a felony on their criminal record, and expensive legal proceedings will likely come to mind. However, this is not always the case. Many of these cases end up being dismissed.

This term can mean many things to an individual. The ambiguous wording of the term can make it hard to identify what exactly it means to a defendant. However, this is typically a positive outcome.

Felony Dismissal Date

Dismissal can happen at varying points of a trial. The first opportunity for a defendant to get their case dismissed comes at the felony dismissal date. This date is the final opportunity for a prosecutor to file the necessary paperwork to pursue a criminal case against a defendant. If this date comes and goes without proper paperwork by the prosecutor, the judge may elect to dismiss the case.

The judge will likely not dismiss the case on their own accord, however. They will likely require persuasion from the defense. The defense will state why this case should be dismissed as a result of the prosecutor’s disregard for the required timeframe. This is when proper legal counsel can play a pivotal role in the defendant’s case. If the prosecutor has a strong case, the judge may not abide by the defendant’s request. This will result in the continuation of the trial.

If the charge is dismissed, there are two very different circumstances that may present themselves. This is because felony dismissal can take two forms: dismissal with prejudice and dismissal without prejudice.

Dismissal With Prejudice

Dismissal with prejudice is essentially the permanent dismissal of a criminal case. A case ending in a dismissal with prejudice cannot ever be retried[2]. This is the best outcome that a defendant can expect without going to trial.

A dismissal with prejudice can be initiated by either the prosecutor or the court. A prosecutor may begin this process for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons a prosecutor may opt for a dismissal with prejudice is if the case is settled outside of court. For instance, a college student arrested for underage drinking may have their case dismissed if they agree to a prosecutor’s particular demand. This may include something like attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. A prosecutor also may simply dismiss a case with prejudice if they believe that they don’t have enough evidence to successfully prosecute a defendant.

While a felony dismissal with prejudice may sound like a dream for criminal defendants, it still comes with a major drawback. The arrest is still available as public record. That means that it is available to employers, landlords, and anybody else who takes an interest in an individual’s past.

Admittedly, many employers aren’t technically allowed to ask an individual about arrests that don’t lead to convictions.[3] Unfortunately this won’t stop all employers from taking a deeper look into an individual’s past and making a decision based on this information. This also doesn’t include the various other entities that may be exploring an individual’s background.

Individuals receiving a dismissal with prejudice ruling can only eliminate the arrest from public record by having their record sealed. The good news is that the sealing of a record is an option available at any time for an individual who has had a case dismissed with prejudice[4]. It is strongly advised that these individuals seek legal counsel to traverse the process of getting their record sealed.

This is admittedly quite an arduous process, but it is inarguably worth it to have the arrest completely cleaned from a criminal record.

Dismissal Without Prejudice

Unfortunately, all dismissals are not created equal. There is a dismissal process titled “dismissal without prejudice” that is vastly different from the aforementioned dismissal.

A dismissal without prejudice is essentially a “pause” in the criminal proceedings against an individual. This means that the prosecutor can choose to reopen the case at a later date.

A dismissal without prejudice may occur for a variety of reasons. For instance, an individual who hasn’t yet completed an out-of-court settlement may have their case dismissed without prejudice until they fulfil the requirements of the settlement. A prosecutor may also dismiss a case without prejudice if they are simply wishing to change the jurisdiction of the court.

A prosecutor may also elect to dismissal case with prejudice if they believe that there are flaws in their case that need correcting. This can include any multitude of things. Here, a defendant must essentially idly sit by as the prosecution strengthens their case. A prosecutor may also dismiss a case with prejudice in order to escalate the charges against a defendant[5].

The prosecution does not have an unlimited amount of time to refile the case. The prosecutor will be held to refiling the case within the defendant’s statute of limitations.  This statute defines the time allowed to transpire between the alleged committal of an offense and the time they are tried in court. Most crimes have a statute of limitations, with the exception of certain severe crimes such as murder.

In many states, the time required for a prosecutor to refile a case is limited far beyond the statute of limitations, often allowing for only 30 days to refile a case. Defendants are encouraged to thoroughly check their local laws to determine how long they will be expected to wait for a retrial in the case of a dismissal without prejudice.

Verifying Publicly Accessible Criminal Record

After a dismissal, whether with or without prejudice, it is important for a felon to see what their criminal record looks like in the public eye. This is the record that is available to employers, landlords, and other important figures in one’s life. Needless to say, this is important information to know.

This is best done by visiting the local courthouse. If the criminal record isn’t physically available at the courthouse, they will likely refer the individual to an online resource. With this information, a felon can see exactly what their record looks like. This can give them a good idea as to how they should answer job, rent, and federal assistance applications. It can also ensure that a potentially damaging clerical error does not go unnoticed.


A felony dismissal date allows for a finite timeframe to be established during criminal proceedings. Any violation of this timeline from the prosecutor’s side may result in a felony dismissal. However, all felony dismissal is not created equally.

Felony dismissal comes in two vastly different forms. A dismissal with prejudice frees the defendant prom potential prosecution from their crimes. Paired with the sealing of a record, this can entirely erase an arrest from an individual’s past. A dismissal without prejudice is a different beast entirely. This type of dismissal can, and likely will, be reopened again in the near future. Prosecutors are fairly limited in their reopening of the case, and individuals with this outcome may still have the opportunity to eventually get this charge dismissed with prejudice.

[2] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/dismissal_with_prejudice

[3] https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/criminal-records-expungement/california.htm

[4] https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/criminal-records-expungement/california.htm

[5] https://www.bajajdefense.com/what-does-it-mean-to-dismiss-without-prejudice/

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