Friday, January 8, 2016

State Attorney's Message: Motions to Dismiss

By Mark A. Ober

       In the interest of judicial economy, the Florida Supreme Court has promulgated Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.190(c)(4), which permits parties to present the undisputed facts of a case to the court for a pre-trial determination of whether the facts support a prima facie case of guilt. Rule 3.190(c)(4) is eminently useful in avoiding trial where the parties agree on the facts but disagree as to how the applicable law pertains to these facts.

        Procedurally, the defendant must: (i) file a written motion outlining all of the facts of the case and (ii) execute an oath that these facts are true. The burden is on the defendant to specifically allege and swear to the undisputed facts in a motion to dismiss. The defendant may not swear that the facts are true and correct “to the best of my knowledge.” The penalty for perjury applies to the sworn motion. The state then must be given the opportunity to demur or traverse that defendant’s motion.

        If the state disagrees with the defendant’s version of the facts or believes that the defendant omitted material facts, the state may file a traverse. If the state files a proper traverse, the court must deny the motion to dismiss. When filing a traverse, the state must deny with specificity the facts contained in the motion or allege with specificity the facts omitted.

        If both parties agree on the material facts of the case but disagree on the application of the law, the state may file a demurrer. This permits the court to determine whether the facts support a prima facie case of guilt. An appropriate case for a demurrer might be where a defendant has been charged with carrying a concealed weapon (e.g., a knife), and the state and defendant agree to the description of the knife, but the defendant argues that the knife is a common pocket knife. The state may demur, agreeing to the dimensions of the knife but maintaining that it is a jury question as to whether the knife and the manner in which it was carried meet the statutory criteria for a weapon. The court may then turn to legal precedent and issue a ruling. A pre-trial ruling on this issue may save the court from trying the case because a ruling against the defendant may trigger a plea, whereas a ruling against the state would terminate the prosecution.

        When considering a defendant’s motion to dismiss charges, all questions and inferences from the facts must be resolved in favor of the state. The trial court is not permitted to make factual determinations or consider either the weight of conflicting evidence or the credibility of the witnesses.

        Pre-trial motion practice can further the interests of justice in an efficient manner. As such, the lawyers in my office are trained to prosecute cases with the utmost regard for expediency and judicial economy, while still seeking justice.