Dismissed vs. Dropped Charges: What Are the Differences?

In the criminal justice system, the terms “dismissed” and “dropped” charges often come up, leaving many individuals wondering about the implications of each. While both terms signify that a defendant is no longer being pursued for a specific crime, the reasons and processes behind them differ.

Understanding these differences is vital for those navigating the criminal justice system and anyone seeking clarity on legal outcomes. In some cases, individuals might even wonder how to get charges dropped before court date.

This article will explore the differences between dismissed and dropped charges.

Understanding Dropped Charges

Dropped charges refer to the decision by a prosecutor not to pursue the charges against an individual. This can occur for various reasons:

  • Insufficient Evidence: If the prosecutor believes that there isn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction, they may drop the charges. For instance, consider a theft case where the supposed stolen item is found in the defendant’s possession, but there’s no direct evidence or witness to confirm the act of theft.

  • Witness Issues: A key witness may become unavailable or uncooperative, leading to the charges being dropped. For example, imagine a scenario where an assault case hinges solely on the testimony of a bystander. The charges might be dropped if that bystander relocates without leaving contact details or simply refuses to testify.

  • Police Misconduct: If it’s discovered that evidence was obtained illegally or there was some other form of police misconduct, the prosecutor might decide not to pursue the case. For example, consider a drug possession charge stemming from a vehicle search. If it’s revealed that the police didn’t have a valid reason for the search, the evidence could be inadmissible, leading to dropped charges.

If you’ve been charged with a crime, it’s important to consult with an experienced Raleigh criminal lawyer or wherever you may be to discuss your options. They can help you understand the charges against you, develop a defense strategy, and negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf.

Remember, while dropped charges often remain absent from a criminal record, the initial arrest may linger. For instance, if you’re applying for a job, you might pass a basic background check, but a more thorough one could reveal the prior arrest.

Getting Familiar With Dismissed Charges

Now that we've discussed the intricacies of dropped charges, let's delve into the concept of dismissed charges. First, a dismissed charge means that the court, not the prosecutor, has decided to discontinue the case against the defendant. This can happen due to several reasons:

  • Procedural Errors: Mistakes in the legal processes, such as improper paperwork or violating the defendant’s rights, can lead to a dismissal. For example, if you’re charged with a crime but aren’t given your Miranda rights during the arrest, any confession or evidence obtained might be deemed inadmissible, leading to dismissal.

  • Insufficient Evidence: While similar to dropped charges, in this context, it means the evidence presented in court wasn’t strong enough to proceed with the case. For instance, picture a fraud case where the alleged fraudulent transactions can’t be directly linked to the defendant, causing the judge to dismiss the charges due to a lack of concrete evidence.

  • Completion of a Diversion Program: Some jurisdictions allow defendants, especially first-time offenders, to complete a diversion or rehabilitation program. Successful completion can result in charges being dismissed. For instance, visualize a first-time offender charged with minor drug possession. The court may opt for dismissal if they complete a drug rehabilitation program.

Like dropped charges, dismissed charges often don’t appear on a defendant’s criminal record. However, the fact that they’re charged and the case was later dismissed might still be visible, especially in in-depth background checks. As with dropped charges, the arrest may still appear unless action is taken to remove it.

Comparing the Two: Key Differences

Knowing the key differences between dropped and dismissed charges is paramount to navigating the criminal justice system. These include:

1. Decision-Maker

One pivotal distinction lies in the decision-maker. For dropped charges, the decision rests with the prosecutor. In contrast, for dismissed charges, the court or judge takes the call.

2. Stage of Legal Proceedings

Dropped charges usually occur before the court process begins. A prosecutor reviews the case, evidence, and circumstances and then decides not to proceed with the charges. On the other hand, dismissed charges come into play once the legal proceedings have already started but are halted due to various reasons.

3. Impact on Future Legal Actions

When charges are dropped, it generally means that the prosecutor has decided not to proceed with the case. However, this doesn’t prevent them from reintroducing the charges later if new evidence emerges. In contrast, when charges are dismissed, especially with prejudice (meaning the dismissal is final), it often bars the case from being brought against the defendant in the future.


Understanding the nuances between dropped and dismissed charges is crucial for those involved in legal proceedings and those seeking to comprehend the intricacies of the criminal justice system. Whether you’re exploring how to navigate your case or simply aiming to differentiate between these two outcomes, keep the information mentioned above in mind to find clarity in this area and aid demystifying a complex system.

Share Article

Related Articles