By Nicholas Domenici
SACRAMENTO – A little bit of a law school lesson follows below in the case of Shawn Kelly, a man who was freed here last week in Sacramento County Superior Court.
It’s how he was set free that is interesting.
Neither the deputy district attorney nor the assistant public defender were aware of the maximum served time behind bars by defendant Kelly. In fact, Court Commissioner Kenneth Brody had to assure both sides that Kelly completed his prison sentence, resulting in the matter being dropped rather than dismissed.
What’s the difference?
Often the words “dismissed” and “dropped” are interchangeably used in criminal charges being brought forward. From a legal perspective, they both have two different meanings.
When a criminal case is dismissed, it means that the judge found some legal errors in the charges presented. If there is no probable cause to charge someone with the crime that has been committed in the first place or the actions don’t suit the legal definition of the crime that took place, then the case will be dismissed.
When a case gets “dropped” by the prosecutor, it means the case brought forward against the defendant lacks sufficient legal grounds to hold up in court before a judge. Only the prosecutor is able to drop the case under the judge’s supervision. A case being dropped means the charges filed against one have been cancelled.
The reasoning behind the charges being dropped can be the following: (1) the victim involved in the case has decided to cooperate; (2) the prosecutor has several cases occurring at the same time, and has decided to spend their time and abilities to other cases of higher importance; and lastly (3) the defendant has been cooperating with prosecutors to help resolve other crimes, which allows the prosecutor to present a deal to the defendant or collectively get all charges dropped.
In summary—and you will be graded—a prosecutor can drop the charges, while the judge has the power to dismiss a case. Once a case is dismissed or dropped, the defendant is free to enter back into society.
Back to Shawn Kelly. His case was dropped by the DA because he was credited for three years and 334 days in prison for his four-year sentence, which he spent at a mental health facility—so he wasn’t subject to a criminal prosecution because of his incompetency, said the court.
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