Dismissing Cases Through Knapstad Motions

Sometimes, Judges dismiss cases by reviewing the facts contained in the police reports. Consequently, the judge decides whether the Prosecutor can prove the different elements of the criminal charges. A Knapstad Motion is pretrial procedure seeking dismissal for lack of proof on the elements.

What is a Knapstad Motion?

In State v. Knapstad, 107 Wash.2d 346 (1986), the Supreme Court created a procedure similar to summary judgment in a civil case, under which a criminal defendant can, by way of pre-trial motion, challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence. In essence, if the prosecution cannot show by competent affidavit that it has a prima facie case of guilt on all elements, the court must dismiss the charge. In evaluating sufficiency of evidence, the court looks at the undisputed material facts already in the court record from the finding of probable cause, and ascertains whether as a matter of law, the prosecution has established a prima facie showing of guilt.

How Do Defense Attorneys Argue Knapstad Motions?

To initiate a Knapstad motion, the defendant’s counsel submits a sworn affidavit alleging there are no material disputed facts and the undisputed facts do not establish a prima facie case of guilt. The affidavit must state all facts and law relied upon in justification of the dismissal, and it may be issued and signed by a non-witness or the attorney for the movant. Typically, these motions do not involve the testimony of witnesses, victims or even the defendant. Because the police reports are assumed to be true for purposes of these motions, testimony is unnecessary.

How Can the Prosecution Defeat A Knapstad Motion?

The prosecution can defeat the motion by filing an affidavit that specifically denies the material facts alleged in the defendant’s affidavit. However, if the prosecution does not deny the undisputed material facts or alleges other material facts, the court is required to ascertain whether the facts, which the prosecution relies upon, as a matter of law, establish a prima facie case of guilt.

What Happens After the Judge Grants the Motion to Dismiss?

If the motion is granted, the court must enter a written order setting forth the affidavits and other materials it has considered and its conclusions regarding the insufficiency of the evidence. The charge will then be dismissed without prejudice.

What Kinds of Cases Are Best Dismissed Under Knapstad Motions?

Any misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony charge can be dismissed via Knapstad motion. Typically, judges grant dismissals if there is an egregious lack of evidence on whether the criminal act actually happened and/or whether the State can prove the defendant truly intended the criminal act in question. Oftentimes, defense attorneys who want to negotiate a case will draft and file these motions as insurance in case negotiations become less than favorable and/or fruitful. These motions tell Prosecutors, ‘You’re going to have to work hard for your conviction. Negotiating this charge might be better on all parties, you included.” For these reasons, Knapstad motions hold their value as bargaining chips persuading the parties to negotiate a settlement before the actual motion is filed/argued. Good luck!

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