Blogs from September, 2015

My Client's First Degree Murder Charge was Dismissed

No Information Notice

Having a prosecutor file a "No Information Notice" on a first-degree murder charge is something few attorneys will experience in their careers. The charges against my client were dismissed with very little litigation and without the necessity of a trial.

The term "No Information" is used in many criminal jurisdictions to describe a prosecutor's decision to discontinue or abandon a criminal prosecution. In filing a "No Information Notice", the State Attorney's Office is essentially stating that the case, in its current form, is not suitable for prosecution. The legal effect of this pleading is that the State has dismissed the criminal case pending against the defendant.

A prosecutor is often judged by the number of convictions they obtain. However, I would submit a prosecutor is better judged, not merely by the number of convictions they obtain, but by the number of cases they voluntarily dismiss after careful review.

Simply because a police officer has made a decision that a certain person has committed a certain crime does not make it true. It's important that a prosecutor does not seek to simply support the arrest decisions of a police officer but rather they seek to independently investigate and determine if it is appropriate to pursue prosecution. This is easier said than done in the face of many pressures and burdens.

Reasons for Prosecution to Dismiss a Case

It's easy enough for a prosecutor to pursue a trial. Equally, a prosecutor can attempt to resolve a case by offering a substantial downward departure in sentencing from what the defendant faces or a plea to a lesser crime. Offering a defendant a conviction to a lesser crime or a lesser sentence in order to get a conviction and not dismiss a case is often very effective. While the prosecutor may lose at trial or the plea result may not be as glamorous for the prosecution, the prosecutor can maintain that he or she put forth his or her best effort to obtain a conviction and attribute the loss or lesser plea deal to a lack of evidence or other circumstances. However, a prosecutor who is willing to voluntarily dismiss a case must be willing to withstand the scrutiny of law enforcement, the community, and their superiors. It takes courage and integrity on the part of the prosecutor to exclaim that, in spite of law enforcement's belief and/or in spite of a victim or witnesses believe that a certain person has committed a certain crime, he or she does not believe a defendant has committed the crime or does not believe that they can prove it in good faith.

Prosecutors Powered by Discretion

One of the positive characteristics of the Office of the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit for the State of Florida is that State Attorney Jeffery Ashton has empowered his prosecutors with discretion. There are many State Attorney offices in Florida where the goal appears not to be the pursuit of justice but rather the pursuit of convictions. In many jurisdictions, a prosecutor would sooner lose at trial than ever file a No Information Notice and voluntarily dismiss a case.

My client faced first-degree murder charges and a life sentence. We had an intrepid defense and would have proceeded to trial if forced to do so. But what if the wind was taken out of our sails? Imagine if the prosecutor assigned to his case was afraid to file a dismissal or had the misguided desire to seek a conviction in lieu of dismissal. For instance, if the prosecutor had opted to offer my client a plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter and probation would my client have opted to extinguish his risk of trial and a life sentence and take the deal? Perhaps in that scenario, my client would have opted to take the 'innocent man offer' (an offer so good that even if you're innocent you'll take it) and would now be a convicted felon.

The Job of the Prosecution: To Seek Justice

A prosecutor's job is not to seek convictions but rather to seek justice. It is important a prosecutor has the integrity and courage to do so. It's equally important he or she has the support of his or her office in that pursuit so that he or she has the confidence to do so. Defendants, by title, are still fathers, daughters, teachers, servicemen and members of our community. A weak prosecutor, or one with a flawed compass, can ignore the proposition of justice and wrongfully destroy an innocent person's future. In my client's case, justice prevailed.

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