Defects in the Complaint or Information Do Not Warrant Dismissal in All Cases
How many times have you heard of a criminal case or traffic ticket being tossed out because of a “technicality”? That is, the facts about a particular situation would otherwise indicate a person is guilty of a crime or traffic violation, but because the law enforcement officer or prosecutor did not follow some procedure or comply with a certain requirement the whole case must be dismissed. This is the dream of every criminal defendant: That law enforcement will somehow “mess up” the case and the case will be dismissed without the defendant having to actually defend him- or herself in any substantive way.
One place where mistakes are frequently discovered is in the charging document. When there are mistakes in the charging document – the complaint or information which sets out your criminal offenses – are you entitled to a dismissal of your charges? The answer (like most legal answers) is, “It depends.”
The Prejudice Caused by the Mistake is Determinative
When deciding whether a mistake in the complaint warrants dismissal of the case, a good place to begin the analysis is looking at whether the mistake has caused any prejudice to the defendant. “Prejudice” here refers to unfairness or surprise that makes it difficult for the defendant to mount an effective defense to the charges. When deciding whether there is prejudice, a court may consider:
- How quickly the mistake is discovered (a mistake discovered at trial is much more prejudicial than a mistake discovered at the beginning of the case);
- Whether the mistake is a mere typographical error or whether it is a substantive mistake (a typographical error or spelling error, such as citing the wrong statute number, may not be considered prejudicial. However, mistakes as to the name of the victim, the victim’s age (if applicable), and/or the date of the offense may be more substantive in nature);
- Whether the mistake impacts the nature of the defense. For instance, suppose that you are charged with a homicide crime against John Doe on April 7, 2016. Suppose further that the incident occurred on January 7, 2016. Your defense to the incident on January 7 is one of self-defense; as to the alleged incident on April 7, your defense would be you were not present at the scene of the crime. This type of mistake is more substantive in nature and can cause you, the defendant, prejudice if it is not corrected.
Timing is Important
As noted above, typically mistakes that are caught early enough in the case can be corrected. Even if the the mistake is substantive and results in a dismissal of the case, such a dismissal is likely to be without prejudice (meaning the prosecution can correct its mistake(s) and refile the case). If the mistake is not discovered and corrected before trial, then a dismissal might be with prejudice as the harm to you, the defendant, would be substantially greater.
Jeffrey S. Weiner is a Miami-based criminal defense lawyer providing experienced and dedicated representing clients in South Florida and throughout the Sunshine State who have been charged with criminal offenses. Contact his office by calling (305) 670-9919 or by completing his firm’s online contact form for assistance with your criminal case.