The two core principles of American criminal jurisprudence—proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the burden of proof belonging to the accuser—have allowed countless of the wrongly accused to prevail at trial. But pursuing a case all the way to trial can be daunting, expensive and time-consuming. How can a defendant go on the offense, and assert his or her case before a trial becomes necessary?
This consideration has led many clients to ask us about motions to dismiss. However, motions to dismiss within the criminal context are highly misunderstood. We know that there are routinely enormous problems with a prosecutor’s case: poor investigation by police, mistaken or lying witnesses, justifications such as self-defense, or obvious evidence of innocence. Accordingly, defendants point to these scenarios and ask to move for dismissal. Yet the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure provide only two avenues to dismiss a case, and they focus on technical and legal defects in a case—not the core factual strengths of its defense.
The first avenue is Rule 3.190(b), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides:
All defenses available to a defendant by plea, other than not guilty, shall be made only by motion to dismiss the indictment or information, whether the same shall relate to matters of form, substance former acquittal, former jeopardy, or any other defense.
This rule is used to assert a number of technical defenses, such as double jeopardy, expiration of statute of limitations, legal defects in the charging document or unconstitutionality of a law. While these defenses are powerful, and should be discovered and asserted should they exists, in truth they rarely exist.
The second avenue is Rule 3.190(c)(4), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides:
There are no material disputed facts and the undisputed facts do not establish a prima facie case of guilt against the defendant.
Under this rule, the prosecution and the defense both agree on the underlying facts, which are generally attested to by the defendant via affidavit. Should both parties agree to the underlying facts, the defendant can then move to dismiss the case should those facts not amount to a chargeable offense. However, it is incredibly rare that law enforcement will construe the facts of a case in a way acceptable to a defendant. And should a defendant submit a factual scenario of his or her own, a prosecutor need only disagree with those facts by filing what is called a “traverse”. Any disagreement between the parties about the underlying facts will terminate the predicate needed to advance a (c)(4) motion.
This is not to say that a defendant has no mechanism to assert a defense before trial. The factual strengths of a defense may allow for a Motion to Suppress Evidence, or a Stand Your Ground Motion, for example, which are powerful and can dispose of a case before a trial becomes necessary.
If you have any legal questions about protecting your rights and asserting the strengths of your defense, call Boatman Ricci at 239-330-1494.
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