Do I Need a Lawyer if My Disposition Was Dismissed or Acquitted?


Do I Need a Lawyer if My Disposition Was Dismissed or Acquitted?

If you’ve had criminal charges against you dismissed or been acquitted after a trial, you may be wondering if you still need a lawyer. It’s a fair question. After all, if the case is over, why keep paying legal fees? But there are good reasons to maintain your relationship with your criminal defense attorney, even after a positive resolution.

Why You Still Need a Lawyer After a Dismissal or Acquittal

Here are some of the main reasons it pays to keep your lawyer on retainer:

  • Help with record expungement – Many states allow for criminal records to be expunged in certain circumstances, like after an acquittal or dismissal. Your lawyer can guide you through the expungement process.
  • Information on potential civil lawsuits – Prosecutors and victims retain the right to pursue civil action even after a criminal case is resolved. Your attorney can advise you on any potential civil exposure.
  • Returning property held as evidence – Following a dismissal or acquittal, your lawyer can ensure any property held for evidentiary purposes is returned to you promptly.
  • Advice on future interactions with law enforcement – Your attorney can provide guidance on how to interact with police going forward, to avoid any issues down the road.

The bottom line is that an experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide invaluable help closing out your case and getting your life back on track. So think twice before parting ways just because the initial case is over.

Why Criminal Cases Get Dismissed

Before digging into the need for continued legal services after a dismissal, let’s look at why criminal cases get dismissed in the first place. There are a variety of reasons a prosecutor may decide to drop charges against a defendant, including:

  • Lack of evidence – If the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove their case, they may move to dismiss.
  • Unlawful actions by police – If police violated your rights or did not follow proper procedures, the case could get tossed out.
  • Witness issues – If key witnesses become unavailable or change their testimony, the prosecutor’s case can fall apart.
  • Lab errors – Mistakes with forensic evidence or lab procedures can also lead to dismissals.
  • Defense negotiations – Your lawyer may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to get charges reduced or dropped.

The specific circumstances and motivations vary by case. But the end result – a dismissal of all charges – is obviously good news for the defendant. However, there are still good reasons to keep your lawyer around, as we’ll explore.

How an Acquittal Differs from a Dismissal

While dismissals and acquittals are both positive outcomes for defendants, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Dismissal happens pre-trial, while an acquittal comes after a full trial.
  • Dismissals can be made with or without prejudice, while acquittals are final judgments.
  • Acquittals require juries or judges to find the defendant “not guilty.”
  • Defendants may have to stand trial again after dismissals if charges are re-filed.

The end result is largely the same – no conviction and the charges lifted. But the path to getting there differs between dismissals and acquittals. Understanding these differences can help you assess any need for ongoing legal help after your criminal case resolves.

Getting Your Record Expunged

One of the primary reasons to keep your lawyer on the job after a dismissal or acquittal is to expunge your criminal record. Expungement is the process of sealing arrest and/or conviction records from public databases like background checks. Many states allow expungements following dismissals and acquittals. But the expungement process itself can be complex, requiring motions, hearings, and court orders. Your lawyer handles all the legwork – all you have to do is pay their fee.

Successful expungements can open doors to jobs, housing, loans and other benefits normally denied to those with criminal records. Some key expungement facts:

  • Each state sets its own expungement laws, with different eligibility rules.
  • Expungement does not delete or destroy records, but seals them from public view.
  • Most states let you expunge dismissed cases that did not result in conviction.
  • Acquittals may also qualify a defendant for an expungement order.
  • The process takes several months in most states and cases.

Talk to your lawyer about whether your case qualifies for record expungement. If so, it’s in your best interest to pursue this option to clear your name for background checks.

Avoiding Civil Lawsuits

Here’s a scenario many defendants don’t consider – you beat the criminal case through dismissal or acquittal, but then get hit with a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages. It happens more than you might think. Just because the criminal case went away doesn’t preclude the alleged victim from pursuing financial compensation for harm done.

These types of civil actions include:

  • Wrongful death – If someone died, surviving family may sue for monetary damages.
  • Assault and battery – Lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries or trauma suffered.
  • False arrest/imprisonment – Civil action after dismissal of wrongful arrest or excessive detention claims.

The burden of proof is much lower in civil cases – just a “preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond reasonable doubt.” Your acquittal or dismissal does not guarantee a civil win. An attorney experienced in both criminal and civil litigation is invaluable in mounting a strong defense against monetary damages.

Returning Seized Property

Following arrests and criminal charges, it’s common for the police to seize personal property as evidence – things like cell phones, computers, vehicles and cash. After a dismissal or acquittal, you have every right to get your stuff back. But it often requires legal counsel to make it happen in a timely fashion.

Defense lawyers file motions and petitions to compel the state to return property held in police evidence lockers post-trial. They submit orders to judges outlining what must be returned to defendants. Without this formal process, the state may drag its feet for months or longer. Your lawyer knows how to shake the tree and get your property back pronto.

Advice for Future Police Encounters

Sad but true – once you have been charged with a crime, you are more likely to get stopped, searched and questioned by police in the future. Even if your record gets expunged, cops have internal databases that may still contain your criminal history. This phenomenon, known as “criminal profiling,” targets those with past arrests.

Your defense lawyer, having handled your dismissal or acquittal, knows your story. More importantly, they know your rights when dealing with law enforcement. Don’t fumble around during future police encounters – lean on your lawyer’s advice. They can provide guidance like:

  • When you must provide ID to police.
  • Your right to remain silent and not answer questions.
  • When police can legally search your person or property.
  • What to do if arrested or detained by police.

Why risk mistakes that lead to trouble? A quick call to your lawyer can help avoid problems during any future contacts with law enforcement.

Weighing the Costs vs. Benefits

At this point, you may be thinking: This all sounds useful, but I’ve already spent a fortune on legal fees just to get the charges dropped. Do I really need to keep paying my lawyer? It’s a reasonable concern. Retaining a private defense attorney doesn’t come cheap.

But you have to weigh those costs against the benefits:

  • Not paying for a record expungement could cost you jobs and opportunities for years to come.
  • Skimping on lawyering could leave you exposed to a draining civil lawsuit.
  • Trying to get seized property returned without counsel may delay the return for months.
  • Interacting with police without good advice could land you back in the criminal justice system.

Viewed through that lens, the money paid to your lawyer after a dismissal or acquittal can be a wise investment in your future. What price can you put on a clean record, avoiding lawsuits, getting your stuff back promptly and staying out of the system?

That said, talk with your attorney about ways to manage costs. See if they offer payment plans or if any legal expenses can be covered by insurance. Find out exactly what they will do moving forward and what fees will be involved. With a clear understanding, you can then decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Takeaways – Should You Keep Your Lawyer?

Here are some key takeaways on whether to keep your criminal defense lawyer after charges are dismissed or you are acquitted:

  • Expungement assistance alone may justify continued legal expenses.
  • Lawyers versed in both criminal and civil litigation are best equipped to defend against potential lawsuits.
  • Counsel can smooth and speed up the return of property held by police.
  • Your attorney is a valuable resource if you have future contact with law enforcement.
  • Weigh the costs against long-term benefits – a clean slate and peace of mind has real value.

In most cases, the smart play is to keep your lawyer engaged to tie up loose ends, limit liability, and get your life back on track after the criminal case ends. The right attorney provides guidance you just can’t get anywhere else.

Every situation is unique, so do your homework before deciding whether to part ways with counsel. If the charges are dismissed or you are acquitted at trial, you’ve already made a wise investment – consider carefully before cutting ties with your criminal defense lawyer.


FindLaw – Expungement and Criminal Record Sealing

NPR – What is Stop and Frisk Anyway?