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Nolle prosequi

Nolle prosequi

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Nolle prosequi is legal term of art and a Latin legal phrase meaning "to be unwilling to pursue", a phrase amounting to "please do not prosecute". It is a phrase used in many common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

Criminal jurisdiction
Criminal jurisdiction is a term used in constitutional law and public law to describe the power of courts to hear a case brought by a state accusing a defendant of the commission of a crime...

 prosecution contexts to describe a prosecutor
The prosecutor is the chief legal representative of the prosecution in countries with either the common law adversarial system, or the civil law inquisitorial system...

's decision to voluntarily discontinue criminal
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

 charges either before trial
Trial (law)
In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information in a tribunal, a formal setting with the authority to adjudicate claims or disputes. One form of tribunal is a court...

 or before a verdict
In law, a verdict is the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge. The term, from the Latin veredictum, literally means "to say the truth" and is derived from Middle English verdit, from Anglo-Norman: a compound of ver and dit In law, a verdict...

 is rendered. It contrasts with an involuntary dismissal
Involuntary dismissal
Involuntary dismissal is the termination of a court case despite the plaintiff's objection.In United States Federal courts, involuntary dismissal is governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 41....


Application in law

Nolle prosequi as a declaration is most often used in criminal cases, but in jurisdictions making use of nolle prosequi in civil lawsuits, is used by a plaintiff to voluntarily drop its claims. In civil cases, a motion for voluntary dismissal
Voluntary dismissal
Voluntary dismissal is when a lawsuit is terminated by voluntary request of the plaintiff . A voluntary dismissal with prejudice is the modern descendant of the common law procedure known as retraxit.In the United States, voluntary dismissal...

 may be made by a plaintiff instead of a declaration of nolle prosequi, depending upon the custom and rules of a given jurisdiction.

Who decides

Nolle prosequi as a declaration can made by a prosecutor in a criminal case either before or during trial, resulting in the prosecutor declining to further pursue the case against the defendant. Courts seldom challenge applications for nolle prosequi, typically judges in the U.S. will sign a dismissal order prepared by the prosecution or make a docket entry reflecting the case has been "nolle pros'ed" after a declaration or motion by the prosecution. In criminal cases in the U.S. it has been held improper for a court to enter an order of nolle prosequi on its own without a motion by the prosecutor, but as to sentencing discrepancies involved in a sentence recommendation, a trial judge is authorized to reject an underlying guilty plea based upon concerns of fairness and justice or because it is presented after the plea cutoff date. The notes to Rule 48 of the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...

 (FRCP) draw attention to the effect of the rule as contrasting with common law: Rule 48 now mandates that prosecutors seek leave of the court before dismissing a case via filing a nolle prosequi.

Why made

The declaration may be made because the charges cannot be proved due to evidence too weak to carry the burden of proof, because the evidence is fatally flawed in light of the claims brought, or may be made if the prosecutor becomes doubtful the accused is guilty or the defendant's innocence is proved, or if the defendant has died.

When made

In criminal cases, nolle prosequi declarations are generally made after an indictment as long as adjudication on the merits has not occurred, or in some jurisdictions, as long as a trial has not commenced. In civil cases, nolle prosequi declarations are made either before trial begins or before a judgement on the merits is rendered, depending on the rules of the jurisdiction.

Legal effect

A withdrawal of the original claim by way of nolle prosqui is not an adjudication on the merits of the claim and thus in a criminal case is not a guarantee that the defendant will not be later re-indicted. The entry of a nolle prosequi as a disposition is, by itself, not an adjudication on the merits of the prosecution or on the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the legal protection against double jeopardy
Double jeopardy
Double jeopardy is a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same, or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction...

 will not automatically bar the charges from being brought again.

Application in civil cases

In civil cases, a nolle prosequi or voluntary dismissal may be entered as to one of several counts or claims, or as to one of several defendants, or both. In any jurisdiction, whether a motion for voluntary dismissal is used or a declaration of nolle prosequi, federal and state rules of civil procedure
Civil procedure
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits...

 generally govern when, how and for what reasons claims may be voluntarily dismissed, applying different rules to different types of claims, and to whether a court may give leave to dismiss a matter with or without prejudice.

Similarity to a Declination of prosecution

Nolle prosequi is similar to a Declination of prosecution, which is an agreement not to prosecute made before any charges are brought or suit has been filed. A Declination of Prosecution may be made by an attorney, but also may be made as an agreement between the aggrieved party and the claimant. In contrast, nolle prosequi is usually made after a decision to prosecute has already been made. A Declination of Prosecution may be made for many reasons, such as weak evidence or a conflict of interest.

Notable cases

  • The 1902 Peasenhall Murder
    Peasenhall Murder
    The Peasenhall Murder is a notorious unsolved murder committed in Peasenhall, Suffolk, England, on the night of 31 May 1902. The house where the murder occurred can be found in the centre of the village, on the opposite corner to Emmett's Store...

     in Suffolk in England.
  • In 1924, Connecticut prosecutor Homer Stille Cummings
    Homer Stille Cummings
    Homer Stille Cummings was a U.S. political figure who was United States Attorney General from 1933 to 1939. He also was elected mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, three times before, founding the legal firm of Cummings & Lockwood in 1909...

     dismissed charges against Harold Israel
    Harold Israel
    Harold Israel was a defendant wrongly accused of murdering a priest in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1924. The charges against Israel were dismissed by the prosecutor, Homer Stille Cummings, who later became Attorney General of the United States....

    , a vagrant accused of murdering a popular priest in Bridgeport, Connecticut
    Bridgeport, Connecticut
    Bridgeport is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Connecticut. Located in Fairfield County, the city had an estimated population of 144,229 at the 2010 United States Census and is the core of the Greater Bridgeport area...

    . Cummings demolished the evidence his own office had compiled against Israel in a 90-minute courtroom presentation. The case became the basis of the 1947 film Boomerang!
    Boomerang (1947 film)
    Boomerang! is a 1947 film based on the true story of a vagrant who was accused of murder, only to be found innocent through the efforts of the prosecutor...

  • In 1925, prosecutors elected to dismiss murder
    Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

     charges against the remaining ten defendants in the famous case of People vs. Ossian Sweet
    Ossian Sweet
    Ossian Sweet was an American physician. He is most notable for his self defense in 1925 of his newly-purchased home in a predominantly white neighborhood against a mob attempting to force him out of the neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, and the subsequent acquittal by an all-white jury of murder...

    . It involved a black
    Black people
    The term black people is used in systems of racial classification for humans of a dark skinned phenotype, relative to other racial groups.Different societies apply different criteria regarding who is classified as "black", and often social variables such as class, socio-economic status also plays a...

     family that had defended its home against a white
    White people
    White people is a term which usually refers to human beings characterized, at least in part, by the light pigmentation of their skin...

     mob. They were defended by attorney Clarence Darrow
    Clarence Darrow
    Clarence Seward Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known for defending teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks and defending John T...

    , who was retained by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, usually abbreviated as NAACP, is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909. Its mission is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to...

    . The trial was presided over by Detroit
    Detroit, Michigan
    Detroit is the major city among the primary cultural, financial, and transportation centers in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. As the seat of Wayne County, the city of Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and serves as a major port on the Detroit River...

     Recorder's Court
    Recorder's court
    The Recorder's Court, in Detroit, Michigan was a state court of limited jurisdiction which had, for most of its history, exclusive jurisdiction over traffic and ordinance matters, and over all felony cases committed in the City of Detroit...

    A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

     Frank Murphy
    Frank Murphy
    William Francis Murphy was a politician and jurist from Michigan. He served as First Assistant U.S. District Attorney, Eastern Michigan District , Recorder's Court Judge, Detroit . Mayor of Detroit , the last Governor-General of the Philippines , U.S...

    , who went on to become an Associate Justice
    Associate Justice
    Associate Justice or Associate Judge is the title for a member of a judicial panel who is not the Chief Justice in some jurisdictions. The title "Associate Justice" is used for members of the United States Supreme Court and some state supreme courts, and for some other courts in Commonwealth...

     of the Supreme Court of the United States
    Supreme Court of the United States
    The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

    . After an initial mistrial, Henry Sweet (Ossian's brother who admitted he fired the shot) was acquitted
    In the common law tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi...

     by a jury
    A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

     on grounds of self defense; the dismissals of the charges against the ten remaining defendants followed.

  • In 1957 John Bodkin Adams
    John Bodkin Adams
    John Bodkin Adams was an Irish-born British general practitioner, convicted fraudster and suspected serial killer. Between the years 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances. Of these, 132 left him money or items in their will. He was tried and acquitted for...

    , who worked in Eastbourne
    Eastbourne is a large town and borough in East Sussex, on the south coast of England between Brighton and Hastings. The town is situated at the eastern end of the chalk South Downs alongside the high cliff at Beachy Head...

    , England
    England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

    , was tried for the murders of two elderly widows, Edith Alice Morrell
    Edith Alice Morrell
    Edith Alice Morrell , was a resident of Eastbourne and patient of the suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams. He was tried for her murder in 1957 but acquitted...

     and Gertrude Hullett
    Gertrude Hullett
    Gertrude "Bobby" Hullett , a resident of Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, was a patient of the suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams, who was charged with her murder but never tried for it.-Jack Hullett:...

    . When he was found not guilty of killing the former, Attorney-General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller controversially entered a nolle prosequi regarding the latter charge. Not only was there seemingly little reason to enter it (Adams wasn't suffering from ill health), the Hullett charge was deemed to be the stronger of the two cases. Lord Justice Patrick Devlin
    Patrick Devlin, Baron Devlin
    Patrick Arthur Devlin, Baron Devlin, PC was a British lawyer, judge and jurist. He wrote a report on Britain's involvement in Nyasaland in 1959...

    , the presiding judge, in his post-trial book termed this "an abuse of power". Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam
    Herbert Hannam
    Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam was a British policeman who worked for Scotland Yard.-Career:Hannam became famous for solving the infamous Teddington Towpath Murders in 1953....

     of Scotland Yard
    Scotland Yard
    Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...

    , the chief investigator, suspected political interference, and Home Office
    Home Office
    The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

     pathologist Francis Camps
    Francis Camps
    Francis Edward Camps, FRCP, FRCpath was a famous English pathologist notable for his work on the cases of serial killer John Christie and suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams.-Early life and training:...

     suspected Adams of killing 163 patients.
  • In 2004, rape
    Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

     charges against basketball
    Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules...

     player Kobe Bryant
    Kobe Bryant
    Kobe Bean Bryant is an American professional basketball player who plays shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association . Bryant enjoyed a successful high school basketball career at Lower Merion High School, where he was recognized as the top high school...

     were dropped after the complainant refused to testify.
  • As a result of his reported death
    Death of Osama bin Laden
    Osama bin Laden, then head of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, shortly after 1 a.m. local time by a United States special forces military unit....

    , charges against Osama bin Laden
    Osama bin Laden
    Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the founder of the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets...

     were dropped on June 17, 2011 with the filing of a nolle prosequi in a Manhattan federal court by the U.S. Department of Justice.

See also

  • Confession of judgment
    Confession of judgment
    Confession of judgment is a legal term that refers to a type of contract in which a party agrees to let the other party enter a judgment against him or her...

    : When used by the Solicitor General of the United States, it has the same effect as a nolle prosequi, but may be used in civil suits as well.
  • Opportunity principle: in Dutch law, this is a generalized (principalized) form of nolle prosequi.
  • Voluntary dismissal
    Voluntary dismissal
    Voluntary dismissal is when a lawsuit is terminated by voluntary request of the plaintiff . A voluntary dismissal with prejudice is the modern descendant of the common law procedure known as retraxit.In the United States, voluntary dismissal...

External resources

  • U.S. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 48.