A New Case that Affects how Cases Can Be Dismissed
On July 2, 2020, the Court of Appeals of Georgia ruled that a trial court cannot dismiss a case for "want of prosecution" if the case is beyond the statute of limitations. In State v. Walker, the Court said that a dismissal for want of prosecution after the statute of limitations is essentially a dismissal with prejudice, which a trial court does not have the authority to do in a criminal case.
So what does this case actually mean? The Walker case involved a misdemeanor DUI case where the incident occurred on December 30, 2016. The case was called for trial on May 28, 2019. The State's witnesses failed to appear, so the Judge granted the Defendant's motion to dismiss the case for "want of prosecution," meaning the State did not have witnesses and could not proceed. The statute of limitations for a misdemeanor DUI is 2 years, so the State could not re-file charges in the case because more than 2 years had passed since the incident. This means the case was essentially dismissed with prejudice, meaning it could not be re-opened. And a Judge in a criminal case cannot dismiss a case with prejudice.
As a practical matter how will this affect criminal cases? In cases where the State cannot get its witnesses in court and they know it will be difficult to do so in the future, or they believe the case is not worth further action, the State might file a dismissal of the case with the court. Another option might be that the trial court calls the case for trial, and if there is no evidence presented, the Defendant is adjudicated Not Guilty, rather than a "dismissal." The Judge could also be more inclined to consider a dismissal for violation of the Defendant's Constitutional speedy trial rights.
If a case is still inside the statute of limitations, the trial court can still grant a dismissal for want of prosecution, but the State can still re-file charges within the statute of limitations period if they choose to do so.
But it's important that this limit's a Judge's ability to "dismiss" a case because a police officer or alleged victim does not appear in court on trial day.
If you have a criminal case pending in Georgia, feel free to contact Kyle Jarzmik.