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No, Your Case isn’t Going to be Dismissed Because . . . . (2nd in a Series): Technicalities

Posted by Lana Manitta | Dec 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Everyone has heard the stories of cases being thrown out on “technicalities,” but for the most part these are the legal world's equivalent to “urban legends.” This is partly because it is often true that what the public believes is a dismissal or acquittal on a so-called “technicality” is actually based upon something legal practitioners would consider far more substantive, such as a constitutional violation which prevents the admission of damning evidence, a faulty witness identification, failure by the prosecution to turn over exculpatory evidence or some other significant fault the government's case that the layperson may find trifling, but which is a pillar of one's right to a fair trial. In other words, there are very few “technicalities.” 

The myths surrounding true “technical” errors are usually related to clerical errors, and the most common misconception is that if your name is spelled wrong on a ticket, summons or even indictment, your case should, and even will, be dismissed. Not true. Mere clerical errors (so, not mistaken identity or identity theft, for example) that do not put into doubt the identification and/or identity of the defendant will not kill a prosecution's case. In fact, since charging documents can be amended in many if not all jurisdictions up until the verdict, cases can proceed all the way through with the wrong spelling on an Indictment. The bottom line is that if the Defendant is properly identified in Court as being the perpetrator—in a case as minor as a speeding ticket or a case as major as a murder—a misspelling is not going to help. So, before you head off to Court.  

So, is there any relief when something like this happens?  Well, maybe. Clerical errors on the part of law enforcement can be useful for cross-examination purposes. Potentially, much can be made of the officer not being careful enough to get down the information correctly. “My client's name is a key piece of information, correct?”  How useful this may be will depend on the type of errors made, the relevance of the particular information, the seriousness of the case, and whether the officer's reliability or credibility are brought into question by the mistake. Perhaps that 85/55 is supposed to read 58/55!!  (If you succeed with that one, please get in touch).  

In serious cases, the mistakes usually need to be "big" to matter. But even in very serious cases, significant errors related to key evidence can result in exclusion of that evidence and sometimes, dismissal (if the government cannot make their case without the excluded evidence). That is why lab testing conducted drug and firearm cases must be carefully reviewed, ideally by an expert in the field, to assure accuracy. Likewise, eyewitness identification techniques used by law enforcement should be thoroughly investigated to check for any undue influence brought to bear, or improper procedure utilized, in the lineup or photo array. In white collar and financial crimes cases, proper loss calculation can make the difference between indictment and deferred prosecution, or make a very significant difference in your sentence in the event of a plea agreement or conviction at trial. These are only a few of the many types of evidentiary issues that may help the defendant. 

The best way to uncover, explore, and make use of major (or minor) errors in your case is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows what to look for, can tell you what will and will not help, and understands how best to use everything possible to mount a defense. 

About the Author

Lana Manitta

Lana Manitta is a criminal defense attorney with over two decades of experience, who is listed as a Virginia Super Lawyer, among the Legal Elite by Virginia Business Magazine, and a Top Attorney by Northern Virginia Magazine and Richmond magazine. She has also achieved an AV-Preeminent rating—the...


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