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I've heard a number of conspiracy theorists say that court cases related to 2020 election fraud were "dismissed without looking at the evidence".

According to wikipedia there have been 55 court cases related to the 2020 United States presidential election and of those 33 were "dismisssed".

What does it mean when a case is dismissed? Is evidence looked at 100% of the time in a dismissed case? If not, how could I determine if a case related to the 2020 election had its evidence looked at before it was dismissed?

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    AIUI many of those cases didn't even try to bring evidence of large-scale fraud. E.g. news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/… Giuliani's claim was not that fraud happened, but that a few Republican voters had their votes wrongly disallowed. “If we had alleged fraud, then yes, but this is not a fraud case,” Giuliani said quickly. – Paul Johnson May 14 at 17:10
  • The Wikipedia page linked in the question says most of the cases were dismissed for “lack of evidence”, which suggests the judges asked to see the evidence and were shown little to none in response. I recall reading at least one partial transcript where the plaintiff’s attorney essentially said straight out that they had no evidence to present. – Todd Wilcox May 15 at 3:16
  • @ToddWilcox Note that some of those cases were trying to get to discovery where they would have had a chance to uncover evidence otherwise unavailable in advance. You dont need all the evidence up front. – Matt May 15 at 22:34
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It means that the case will not be heard in full, and it can happen for various possible reasons:

  • The defendant files a "motion to dismiss" which is granted (for example if the plaintiff failed to comply with some court rule which makes the case irreparably unfair).
  • The plaintiff voluntarily drops the case (for example if a settlement with the defendant is reached).
  • The judge dismisses the case sua sponte, meaning without being provoked to do so by either the plaintiff or defendant (for example if the judge finds that his or her state court has no jurisdiction for a federal matter or vice versa).

If the case is dismissed with prejudice then the plaintiff cannot bring forward the same case on the same grounds, whereas if it is dismissed without prejudice then the case can be heard again (for example if there was some court rule with which the plaintiff failed to comply or if the case was dismissed due to some error in the statement of claim, the plaintiff can fix such errors and try to litigate the case again).

"Is evidence looked at 100% of the time in a dismissed case?"

Not 100% of the time. If a case is dismissed simply because the court has no jurisdiction for the matter, it's possible that this conclusion was reached simply by the statement of claim and without looking at evidence per se, since the statement of claim, possibly combined with the defendant's motion to dismiss, may contain enough information for the judge to dismiss the case. Often some amount of evidence will be seen, but not 100% of the time.

In the future you can learn such terminology yourself on the webpage of the LII (Legal Information Institute) hosted by the Cornell Law School, for example the word dismissal is explained here.

"If not, how could I determine if a case related to the 2020 election had its evidence looked at before it was dismissed?"

You could look at the court proceedings and see the judge's final written statement, which would usually say why the case was dismissed and may also give hints as to what evidence was considered (if any).

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  • After the election, there have been cases where the plaintiff told the world they had tons and tons of irrefutable evidence, but somehow didn't show it to the court. At least one case was dismissed because "the plaintiff did not claim any plausible evidence". The judge won't look at "evidence" that doesn't actually prove anything. – gnasher729 May 15 at 19:29
  • I don't think that comment belongs on this answer. – Nike Dattani May 15 at 20:16
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A case can be "dismissed" at (most) any time (however, the further along in the process a case is, the less likely a judge will allow a case to be dismissed without very good reason).

A case can be dismissed with or without "prejudice", which in this legal context means essentially "finality". A case dismissed with prejudice cannot be brought again, while a case dismissed without prejudice can be refiled. (Compare the criminal law concept of "double jeopardy", though as phoog correctly notes, "double jeopardy" only applies in criminal trials, while prejudice can be applied in both civil and criminal courts).

Many cases are dismissed without looking at the evidence (or even having the evidence admitted to the record); this is called "summary judgement" or "judgement as a matter of law". There are generally three cases when this happens:

First, if the prosecution or plaintiff (i.e. the party bringing accusations) has "failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted", i.e. asked for something the court cannot grant.

Second, is if the defendant can show, that even if everything alledged by the plaintiff is true, that the necessarily elements of the crime or offense have not been proven.

Third, is if there are no facts in dispute, and only a disagreement on interpreting the law.

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    Double jeopardy does not apply to civil cases, yet a civil case dismissed with prejudice generally can't be brought again. Another reason for dismissing cases is procedural failings on the part of the plaintiff, for example failure to meet deadlines. – phoog May 14 at 16:27
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    Should also be pointed out that cases can be dismissed for mootness (The circumstances have changed such that the matters at issue resolved themselves), ripeness (It may have been wrong, but you missed the window of opportunity to sue. In criminal law this is governed by Statute of Limitations) and Standing (whether or not there is something that the defendant has done wrong, only plaintiffs claiming actual injury can sue.). – hszmv May 14 at 17:07
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    You forgot a fourth: the case is improperly filed. Often these will be dismissed without prejudice to allow the plaintiff to file the case properly (cases MUST follow the specific court rules in addition to the law - and different courts and even judges have different rules in addition to state rules and federal rules). However sometimes they are dismissed with prejudice like the ones filed by an obvious copyright troll that repeatedly failed to comply to the rules – slebetman May 15 at 1:48
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    Why can a court dismiss a case if there is only a disagreement on interpreting the law? Isn't interpreting the law exactly what a judgment is supposed to do, after facts have been ascertained as far as possible? – sgf May 15 at 11:15
  • @sgf Summary judgment in the defendant's favor, as a result of the court's interpretation of the law, is technically different from dismissal. But the outcome is similar: the case is closed, leaving the status quo in place (unless the defendant has counter-claims). A layperson might informally refer to this as the case being "dismissed". – David May 15 at 18:04

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