Decoding Dismissals: Do You Really Know What Your Court Order Means?

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Decoding Dismissals: Do You Really Know What Your Court Order Means?

 When it comes to disposing of cases, it seems there is often a push to reach an agreement. Individuals sometimes enter into a final decision in order to ‘resolve their case’ without fully understanding all of the potential ramifications. This can be a good decision at times. Other times, it can lead to adverse consequences which may have been avoided. Sadly, many unrepresented people suffer long-term effects due to these quick ‘agreements’ and ‘deals,’ often simply because they really do not understand the terminology being used in court. Let’s take a look at what happens at the end of a basic traffic or criminal case in Illinois.

Disposition

 A disposition is the final outcome of the case. Sometimes, attorneys will refer to it as the final order or the judgment.  Regardless what it is called, this is the final resolution.

Finding of “Not Guilty”

You are not declared “not guilty” unless the case actually proceeds to a trial, where a jury (or a judge in certain types of cases) decides that the evidence against you was insufficient for a conviction. Our American legal system does not have a mechanism for declaring you “innocent.”  Rather, a not guilty verdict just means that your case was heard and decided in your favor.

Conviction (Finding of “Guilty”)

Obviously, this is one of the worst outcomes for any defendant because it means that your case was heard and decided against you. With a conviction, the court will impose a sentence within the guidelines of the charge. This is up to 364 days for a Class A Misdemeanor and generally 1-3 years for a Class 4 Felony, 2-5 years for a Class 3 Felony, 3-7 years for a Class 2 Felony, 4-15 years for a Class 1 Felony, and 6-30 years for a Class X Felony. In certain circumstances an individual is subject to extended term sentencing (double the minimum and maximum) or other enhancers based upon the facts of the case. Convictions are generally permanent and cannot be later expunged unless a pardon is granted.

Dismissal

A dismissal is neither a “judgment” nor “verdict” in the strict sense of those words because the case has not been heard and decided by a judge or jury. Instead, a dismissal is entered when the court determines that the case should not move forward for some reason. There are many reasons for dismissals. For instance, there can be procedural errors, a lack of proper jurisdiction over the type of case, and many other reasons. In any event, the result is the same – the case does not move forward and never reaches a verdict. A dismissal does not necessarily mean the case is completely over. Under certain circumstances, the prosecutor can refile the case.

Stricken Off With Leave to Reinstate (SOL)

 This is a confusing term for many and is an archaic practice that is largely confined to Cook County. It means the case has been stricken with leave to reinstate. In theory, the prosecutor has made this motion to dismiss to preserve its ability to reinstate the case. However, as the supreme court in Ferguson has pointed out, motions SOL are “not provided for by any rule or statute.” Ferguson, 213 Ill.2d at 100, 289 Ill. Dec. 679, 820 N.E.2d at 459. The absence of any such authority should give pause to prosecutors who think using these alternatives to a simple and straightforward “motion to dismiss” is somehow justified or appropriate. While the State may always dismiss a charge “with prejudice,” the effect of which would subsequently bar the State from prosecuting the same defendant for the same offense based upon the same facts, the trial court is never permitted to infer the State’s intent to dismiss with prejudice unless the prosecutor clearly and explicitly states that he or she is doing so. A motion to dismiss by SOL, like any other dismissal by the State, unless it is explicitly with prejudice, is subject to the State reinstating the charge as long as the statute of limitations had not run or the trial court determines that the motion was for the purpose of circumscribing the defendant’s speedy-trial rights or other improper purpose.

Nolle Prosequi

 Latin for “no more prosecution,” this is another way of saying that a case is dismissed by the prosecutor (in Illinois, he or she is referred to as the State’s Attorney). There are many reasons for doing this. Sometimes, a defendant may agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense that guarantees the State a conviction for a related offense, in exchange for the State’s Attorney not prosecuting or “dismissing” the more serious charge. This type of dismissal is not a final disposition of the case and will not bar another prosecution for the same offense. While a prosecutor generally has the absolute right to dismiss a case, the State must obtain the trial court’s consent to nolle prosequi a case and the court has discretion to determine whether that action (1) is capriciously vexatiously repetitious or (2) will cause substantial prejudice to the defendant, such as the State’s effort to cause delay or avoid the effect of the speedy-trial provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (725 ILCS 5/103-5). Unlike the SOL, the nolle prosequi requires the institution of a new and separate proceeding to prosecute.

Court Supervision

 This is a form of “deferred prosecution.” You enter a plea of guilty, and so long as you comply with the terms of the supervision (paying fees on time and so forth) and do not commit other violations, then once the statutory time period elapses, the charge is dismissed without a conviction having been entered. This is commonly seen when a person violates a traffic law or misdemeanor. Now, you should be aware that there are many traps for the unwary, and a supervision can still show up on your driving record and public records.

Probation vs. Conditional Discharge

 These terms are often misleading. Following a conviction or guilty plea, the court will enter a sentence. This is the punishment aspect of the case. These sentences are typically used when the court finds a conviction is warranted but a period of incarceration less than those proscribed by the class of offense is warranted. Often times the court will impose penalties such as community service, drug treatment, or other counseling. Depending on the nature of the offense, your record, and many other factors, a judge may place you on probation. This means that your conduct will be closely scrutinized for the term of your probation period, and violations of those terms can result in harsh penalties. Unlike court supervision, for most forms of probation, a conviction does enter.

There are a few special forms of probation, such as Section 410 probation, Section 10 probation, and Second Chance probation, which are not considered convictions or TASC probation, which is initially a conviction but may later be vacated by the court. These special forms of probation may even be expunged upon successful completion.

Likewise, Conditional discharge is not a dismissal or discharge. It is merely a different method by which a court carries out a conviction. It is slightly less restrictive than probation, and sometimes it can require less invasive reporting requirements. Other than that, it is similar to probation; it is a way for the court to maintain jurisdiction over you and ensure compliance.

Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer

As you can probably tell, there are a lot of nuances to each category of disposition. Whether you are charged with a minor traffic offense or a serious felony, there are many ways that any one particular case may be resolved. In order to achieve the best possible resolution for your particular case, it is crucial that you are represented by a skilled attorney who understands these nuances and can effectively negotiate with prosecutors to give you the best possible choices. Do not attempt to handle your case alone. Contact Ivec Law, P.C. today to speak to an attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

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