Out in the wheat fields of Ritzville, Washington, an Adams County Superior Court judge refused to dismiss a case after a prosecutor told the court they did not have enough evidence to prosecute and wished to dismiss the case. In the case, State v. Agustin, a juvenile defendant was charged with possession of marijuana. At a suppression hearing, the court suppressed key evidence in the case. Following the suppression hearing, the prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss with the court, and notified the defense attorney that they would not be proceeding to trial and would be dismissing the case (note, in juvenile court, one has a right to a bench trial, but not a jury trial). The defense attorney showed up on the morning of trial expecting the case to be dismissed, as the prosecutor had stated. Instead, the judge indicated he had reviewed the request for dismissal and disagreed that there was not enough evidence to prove the offense. The judge denied the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss, and ordered the prosecutor to call witnesses and proceed to trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge found the defendant guilty.
On appeal, the appellate court noted that while a judge does have discretion to deny a prosecutor’s motion to dismiss, this discretion only exists if the prosecutor’s reason for dismissing was inappropriate. An example of an inappropriate reason to dismiss would be a prosecutor who is up against a speedy trial deadline who dismisses a case and then refiles (dismissing and refiling adds speedy trial time to a case; i.e. the prosecutor would be gaming the system). In this case, the court noted the prosecutor had not just expressed doubts about their ability to prove the charge but had actually filed a written motion to dismiss and notified the defense of their intention. The appeal court found the defendant’s separation of powers argument persuasive, and dismissed the case. No wonder some judges are referred to as prosecutors in a black robe.