There are two different ways in which a case may be dismissed, “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.” In order to understand what it means for a case to be dismissed “without prejudice” it is helpful to first understand what it means for a case to be dismissed “with prejudice.”
Dismissed With Prejudice
Oftentimes the word “prejudice” is associated with unfair bias or discrimination, which may lead to the assumption that when a case is dismissed “with prejudice” it is due to some form of discrimination. That is not the case. In the legal context of a dismissal, “prejudice” refers to a loss of certain rights or privileges. For a case to be dismissed “with prejudice” means that it is dismissed with the loss of certain rights or privileges and for a case to be dismissed “without prejudice” means the opposite. The rights and privileges in question have to do with whether the plaintiff will be able to bring the same case to court or file another suit that is based on the same grounds as the one that has been dismissed.
For a case to be dismissed “with prejudice” means that the case is dismissed permanently, it cannot be brought back to court, and the charges cannot be refiled. A case that is “dismissed with prejudice” is completely and permanently over.
A case will be dismissed with prejudice if there is reason for the case not to be brought back to court; for example, if the judge deems the lawsuit frivolous or the the matter under consideration is resolved outside of court. Although a case that has been dismissed with prejudice cannot be reopened, it is possible to appeal the dismissal to a higher judge or to file different charges under a new case.
Dismissed Without Prejudice
Whereas a case that is dismissed “with prejudice” is dismissed permanently, a case that is dismissed “without prejudice” is only dismissed temporarily. This temporary dismissal means that the plaintiff is allowed to re-file charges, alter the claim, or bring the case to another court.
A dismissal without prejudice does not overturn the statute of limitations. Certain elements of a case may be affected if the prosecution does not re-file charges in time; for example, the defendant may be released.
A case may be dismissed without prejudice for a number of reasons. A prosecutor may choose to dismiss a case without prejudice in order to have time to address a weakness or issue with their case. Another reason a prosecutor may choose to dismiss a case might be to file a new one that is more or less serious than the original; for example, to dismiss an assault case and file a case of (less serious) assault. A judge may dismiss a case without prejudice in order to allow a particular side time to address an issue with the case before trying the case again.
Whether a case is dismissed with or without prejudice may have to do with whether it is dismissed by the prosecutor or by a judge and whether the dismissal is voluntary or involuntary.
A case that is dismissed voluntarily is dismissed by the party that brought the case and may be dismissed with or without prejudice. A voluntary dismissal serves the interests of the prosecutor.
A prosecutor may choose to voluntarily dismiss a case with prejudice if there is no reason to bring the case back to court; for example, if the grounds for bringing the case are resolved outside of court. A prosecutor may voluntarily dismiss a case without prejudice in order to file a more or less serious case (as in the previous battery/assault example), to address a weakness or error in some part of the case (such as the evidence), or if they are not ready to go to trial at the date called by the judge.
A case that is dismissed involuntarily is dismissed by a judge and may be dismissed with or without prejudice. A case that is dismissed involuntarily is dismissed against the wishes of the prosecution if the judge determines that there is a good reason why the case should not be tried.
A judge may dismiss a case without prejudice in order to allow for errors in the case presented to be addressed before it is brought back to court. A judge will dismiss a case with prejudice if he or she finds reason why the case should not move forward and should be permanently closed. This could be for any number of reasons; for example, if many chances to fix the case have already been given.