The legal world is filled with nuances and seeming contradictions. Each state has its own set of laws, which may be the same as other states, similar, or different. Legal terms can also be even more baffling when used by the media or entertainment industry. In this article, we will compare the difference between setting aside a case and dismissing a case.
To set aside a case means that the original judgment is changed in some way. After a trial or other determination, a party can ask the court (called a “motion,” or “petition the court”) to change the result. Of course, there needs to be sufficient, and legal reason for this setting aside to happen. Each case is unique and is governed by the law. So the original decision can be completely cancelled, or it can be modified somehow. The decision and case still exists, it is just changed. What would prompt a motion to set aside? In a criminal case, perhaps the sentence was too harsh for the crime, like life imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread. In a civil case, it could be claimed that the amount of damages awarded were excessive based on the injuries suffered.
When a case is dismissed, that means it is closed. It can be dismissed before a trial, during a trial, or at the conclusion. A case dismissed “without prejudice” means that the case can be re-filed at a later date. A case dismissed “with prejudice” means the specific claim cannot be re-filed or re-charged to the defendant. A dismissal must be approved by a judge because it means the case is over.
In criminal cases, a dismissal is not the same as an acquittal. Being acquitted means that the person could not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
When something is expunged, it is completely wiped out. It offers a fresh start for perhaps a petty crime, or mistaken identity. Laws vary greatly about which arrests and convictions can and cannot be expunged or sealed.
For instance in Arizona, “set aside” and “expungement” mean the same thing. So, in that State, the case is not erased, but still visible and is still available during criminal record checks for employment or other purposes.
A case can be dropped at any stage of the process. Whoever instigated the case, civil or criminal, perhaps feels that the evidence available would not support their position.
All of this may seem confusing, and it is. If there is any question, seek legal representation from a qualified attorney.