Rule 48. Dismissal

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(a) By the Government. The government may, with leave of court, dismiss an indictment, information, or complaint. The government may not dismiss the prosecution during trial without the defendant's consent.

(b) By the Court. The court may dismiss an indictment, information, or complaint if unnecessary delay occurs in:

(1) presenting a charge to a grand jury;

(2) filing an information against a defendant; or

(3) bringing a defendant to trial.


(As amended Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1944

Note to Subdivision (a). 1. The first sentence of this rule will change existing law. The common-law rule that the public prosecutor may enter a nolle prosequi in his discretion, without any action by the court, prevails in the Federal courts, Confiscation Cases, 7 Wall. 454, 457; United States v. Woody, 2 F.2d 262 (D.Mont.). This provision will permit the filing of a nolle prosequi only by leave of court. This is similar to the rule now prevailing in many States. A.L.I. Code of Criminal Procedure, Commentaries, pp. 895–897.

2. The rule confers the power to file a dismissal by leave of court on the Attorney General, as well as on the United States attorney, since under existing law the Attorney General exercises “general superintendence and direction” over the United States attorneys “as to the manner of discharging their respective duties,” 5 U.S.C. 317 [now 28 U.S.C. 509, 547]. Moreover it is the administrative practice for the Attorney General to supervise the filing of a nolle prosequi by United States attorneys. Consequently it seemed appropriate that the Attorney General should have such power directly.

3. The rule permits the filing of a dismissal of an indictment, information or complaint. The word “complaint” was included in order to resolve a doubt prevailing in some districts as to whether the United States attorney may file a nolle prosequi between the time when the defendant is bound over by the United States commissioner and the finding of an indictment. It has been assumed in a few districts that the power does not exist and that the United States attorney must await action of the grand jury, even if he deems it proper to dismiss the prosecution. This situation is an unnecessary hardship to some defendants.

4. The second sentence is a restatement of existing law, Confiscation Cases, 7 Wall. 454–457; United States v. Shoemaker, 27 Fed. Cases No. 16, 279 (C.C.Ill.). If the trial has commenced, the defendant has a right to insist on a disposition on the merits and may properly object to the entry of a nolle prosequi.

Note to Subdivision (b). This rule is a restatement of the inherent power of the court to dismiss a case for want of prosecution. Ex parte Altman, 34 F.Supp. 106 (S.D.Cal.).

Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment

The language of Rule 48 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only.

The Committee considered the relationship between Rule 48(b) and the Speedy Trial Act. See 18 U.S.C. §§3161, et seq. Rule 48(b), of course, operates independently from the Act. See, e.g., United States v. Goodson, 204 F.3d 508 (4th Cir. 2000) (noting purpose of Rule 48(b)); United States v. Carlone, 666 F.2d 1112, 1116 (7th Cir. 1981) (suggesting that Rule 48(b) could provide an alternate basis in an extreme case to dismiss an indictment, without reference to Speedy Trial Act); United States v. Balochi, 527 F.2d 562, 563–64 (4th Cir. 1976) (per curiam) (Rule 48(b) is broader in compass). In re-promulgating Rule 48(b), the Committee intends no change in the relationship between that rule and the Speedy Trial Act.