State Can Dismiss and Re-file in Bad Faith - Supreme Court Decision

Last summer, the Court of Appeals decided that it is bad faith for a prosecutor to dismiss a case, with the express intent to re-file criminal charges against the same defendant, after a Court had denied a continuance request. The Court of Appeals precluded such actions. The State appealed that decision and the Supreme Court just ruled that this conduct is lawful, thereby opening up to an abuse of the process for the State going forward.

Facts –

To understand this decision, we need to under the timeline of events from the case. The defendant was charged with DWI and had a trial date scheduled. The lone witness – the arresting officer – was unavailable on the trial date. The State learned of this unavailability the day before trial, tried to resolve the case at trial, and, after that was unsuccessful, requested a continuance of the trial. The district court denied the continuance request. The prosecutor made it known that it didn’t matter because their office intended to dismiss the case and then re-file criminal charges via tab charging against the same defendant – effectively, creating a do-it-yourself continuance. When the case was re-filed, the defendant ended up pleading guilty after the motion to dismiss was denied.

Analysis –

The Supreme Court held that, per Minn. R. Crim. P. 30.01 and 30.02, such a tactic of dismissing and re-filing criminal charges is lawful when (1) the charges were initiated via tab charge or complaint, and (2) the state does not unnecessarily delay bringing the defendant to trial.

R. 30.01 permits zero court overview when the State dismisses a tab charge or complaint. As such, no bad-faith analysis applies and the State can dismiss and re-file at their will. The only protection afforded a defendant is undder R. 30.02, which requires any charging to be done in a manner that does not unnecessarily delay bringing the defendant to trial. In the case at bar, there was no unnecessary delay under the following facts: the State knew of the unavailability the day before, tried to resolve the case still, dismissed and re-filed the charges within 2 weeks, and set hearings within a normal time frame. The Court did not discuss what might constitute unnecessary delay.

Impact –

The impact of this case is particularly harmful to defendants. Instances in which an officer or key witness is unavailable is no longer of grave concern to the State because it can dismiss and re-file charges without concern that doing so may be considered bad-faith. This removes some leverage opportunities for the defendant when such a situation occurs. And, perhaps worst of all, it will lead to a defendant’s criminal record getting filled with multiple records relating to a single event. Yes, the date of the incident will remain, but multiple criminal cases with different court file numbers will exist. So, to human resources personnel reviewing your criminal record, they may believe your criminal record is longer than it truly is.