Dismissal of DWI Charge by Prosecutor When Insufficient Evidence Due to Suppression Order
Opinion rules that a prosecutor must dismiss a DWI charge when the prosecutor fails to appeal a court order suppressing evidence from the traffic stop thereby eliminating the evidence necessary to prove the charge.
In a Driving While Impaired (DWI) case in district court, a defendant makes a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence obtained from the stop of his vehicle pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. A720-38.6(a). After considering the evidence offered at the pretrial hearing, the district court judge enters an order pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. A720-38.6(f) indicating his/her preliminary inclination to grant the defendant's pretrial motion because the stop was unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The prosecutor does not appeal this preliminary ruling to superior court and the district court judge's decision becomes a final judgment pursuant to the statute. The district court judge enters a final order suppressing the evidence from the vehicle stop. The evidence from the vehicle stop was the only evidence of the alleged crime. The case is re-calendared.
May the prosecutor call the case for trial, arraign the defendant (who pleads not guilty), call no witnesses or otherwise offer evidence, and rest the case, thus requiring the judge to dismiss the case; or does the prosecutor have an ethical duty to dismiss the case after all evidence of guilt is suppressed pursuant to the pretrial motion?
A lawyer has an ethical duty, under Rule 3.1, not to bring a proceeding unless there is a basis in law and in fact for doing so that is not frivolous. In light of this duty, a prosecutor who knows that she has no admissible evidence supporting a DWI charge to present at trial must dismiss the charge prior to calling the case for trial.