Summary Judgment in Civil and Criminal Trials

Most legal actions never see the inside of a courtroom. In fact, it has been reported that almost 90% of criminal trials are resolved without a trial and many civil actions are also settled before trial. One of the most common ways that civil trials end before coming to court is through summary judgment, which is when the court enters a judgment in the earlier stages of the case. Summary judgment is only available in civil cases.

A court can grant summary judgment if it finds that there are no disputed matters of fact and that one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. At any time after a case is filed, either party can request summary judgment and provide evidence to support a such a finding, usually obtained during the discovery process.

While summary judgment is not available in criminal cases, there are several circumstances where the court can enter a judgment in favor of the defendant in a criminal proceeding, including:

Motion to dismiss — either party may request that the court dismiss the charges against a defendant at any time after formal charges are filed. There are several grounds that a court can base its ruling to dismiss, including if there is no probable cause for an arrest, lack of evidence, loss of evidence or an illegal search.

Directed verdict — after a criminal trial begins, a judge can grant a directed verdict for a defendant at any time before the jury begins deliberations. Typically, this occurs after the prosecution presents its case. Before putting on a defense, defendant’s counsel may petition the court for a directed verdict in favor of the defendant. If, after reviewing the prosecution’s case, a judge finds that the evidence is not sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, or that no reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty of the crime based on the evidence provided by the prosecution, the judge may direct a verdict in favor of the defense. A directed verdict is only available for the defense in a criminal case. A judge cannot direct a verdict of guilt since defendants are entitled to a trial by jury by the Constitution. Directed verdicts are also an option in civil trials and apply for both parties.

Setting aside a verdict — if a jury finds a defendant guilty, defense counsel can make a motion asking the court to set aside that verdict. The grounds for this motion are nearly the same as those for a directed verdict — that the evidence is not sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime and that the defendant should be acquitted as a matter of law.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or dan@cogdell-law.com.

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