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At least in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, criminal defence can make a "no case to answer" application before trial (they can also make one at the close of the prosecution's case during trial, but let's not be distracted by that).

When they make such an application before trial, they basically assert that the prosecution's evidence is not capable of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. That means, even if the witnesses testify it and don't get discredited, no reasonable jury would convict anyway.

The judge, when determining such an application, evaluates the would-be-given evidence and decides if it is capable of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. If it is, the application gets dismissed and the case proceeds to trial. If it is not, the charges get dismissed.

Is there an equivalent motion in the US? What is it called? How does it work? The closest thing I heard of is "probable cause" but is it a full equivalent of "no case to answer"?

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  • Are you sure about the premise of your question? The link you’ve provided says that a no case to answer submission is made “usually at the end of the prosecution case” and “occasionally during the prosecution case.” I have never heard of a pre-trial application to dismiss charges being referred to as a “no case to answer” submission.
    – sjy
    Oct 27 at 20:25
  • @sjy Yes I can confirm that happens in New Zealand all the time, and I had to rebut such an application as a prosecutor myself. See s 147. Not entirely sure about the UK though.
    – Greendrake
    Oct 27 at 22:41
  • Section 147 provides for dismissal on several grounds of which “no case to answer” is only one. The rulings in [2021] NZDC 7590 [17] and [2021] NZDC 14790 [16] reflect usage elsewhere in the common law world, that a “no case to answer” submission is made at the close of the prosecution case – when the accused is invited to answer it.
    – sjy
    Oct 28 at 23:58
  • 1
    @sjy Here are some examples of s147 "no case to answer" before trial (and there are many more): Police v Pei [2016] NZDC 3791, R v Rubie [2016] NZHC 2108, my case.
    – Greendrake
    Oct 29 at 1:34
  • Fair enough, thanks for the references!
    – sjy
    Oct 30 at 3:33
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At the federal level, there is no real equivalent to what you're describing.

A probable cause hearing evaluates the government's evidence in a similar way, but it doesn't ask whether a reasonable jury would convict. The closest I can think of is a Rule 29 motion, which does ask that question, but not until trial has already begun. You typically make the motion at the close of the government's case, and (if it was not successful) again at the close of your own, though I've heard tales of judges granting the motion at the end of the government's opening statement.

The states all have their own rules, but they're generally pretty similar to the federal rules in this respect, as I understand it. I don't know of any state that allows the kind of motion you're talking about, in criminal cases, at least. In civil cases, I think everyone has Rule 12(b)(6) motions, which ask the court for a pretrial determination that there's no set of facts that could establish liability on the plaintiff's theory of the case.

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  • Yeah, usually if a case is that lacking, I don't think a grand jury would have returned indictments in the first place.
    – pboss3010
    Oct 27 at 12:32
  • 2
    So, Rule 29 seems to be the full equivalent of no case to answer which is invoked at the end of the prosecution's case. But there's no pre-trial equivalent. Eureka!
    – Greendrake
    Oct 27 at 12:49
  • That's my reading, as well.
    – bdb484
    Oct 28 at 4:30

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