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In the Legal Term Nolle Prosequi, What Does Nolle Mean?

By: Larry Kohn and Cory Yager, Partners in Kohn & Yager LLC and Georgia Super Lawyers

First, nolle prosequi is a Latin term that is almost exclusively used in the criminal justice system. Loosely defined, it means to decline to prosecute. So, nolle prosequi refers to a prosecutorial decision to no longer prosecute or to decline the prosecution of a pending criminal case, for example, a DUI case, domestic violence, or a drug crime.

A tiny number of states have a procedure for a nol pros (by the plaintiff) of a civil case. Other states, such as Georgia, simply call this a dismissal without prejudice that permits the case being refiled at any time within the statute of limitations.

The procedure arose in England as part of its Common Law. Most of the American states (including the 13 original colonies) adopted the English common law system, subject to creating new laws targeted to American Justice. You may be asking yourself, “is a nolle prosequi a good thing?” Yes, if it ends with your criminal record being expunged or receiving a record restriction in GA.

If a first-year law student walking in the door for the first day was asked to define nolle prossed, 99% would flunk out that same day. Not one would have a good nolle prosequi definition to offer. Yet, the crux of this legal issue has reached the United States Supreme Court and been ruled upon in a way that favors the accused, in Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 2013 (1967).

Often misspelled by a prosecutor (when a case ends by a nolle prosequi filed in the record), such documentation usually indicates that charges cannot be proved. For a criminal prosecution, in court documents as noelle prosequi or noelle prossed, the gist of this phrase is that the prosecutor has made a discretionary decision to drop (dismiss) the charge.

Nolle Prossed Georgia Definition: How to Define Nolle Prosequi

Map Opting to use plain, modern language, some states like New York no longer use the nolle prose phrase in 2020. Prosecutors in the Empire State simply write "dismissed," or "dismissal" on the charging document (an indictment or accusation). Four other state statutes for nol prossing criminal charges are shown in the bottom links of this page.

The prosecution invokes nol prosequi or dismissal when it has decided to discontinue a prosecution or part of it. Lawyers and judges refer to the charges “nol prossed” or dismissed.

The prosecutor may only nol pross some of the charges pending against a citizen, but not all. This way, the prosecution may proceed to trial on the remaining accusations. In such an event, this leaves no chance of restarting the nol prossed charge or charges for prosecution for the same offense or offenses.

The significance of receiving a disposition nolle prosequi indicted dismissal in a circuit court or superior court (for the accused) is huge. This nolle pros meaning brings a sigh of relief that a looming jury trial won't happen - at least for now.

In some states, the prosecution must move to dismiss charges (often “in the interests of justice”), and the case doesn’t end until the court grants the motion. In others, the prosecution can unilaterally dismiss charges. This Georgia statute lets you understand the nuances and timing for when a nolle prosequi GA case is proper:

OCGA 17-8-3

After an examination of the case in open court and before it has been submitted to a jury, the prosecuting attorney may enter a nolle prosequi with the consent of the court. After the case has been submitted to a jury, a nolle prosequi shall not be entered except by the consent of the defendant. The prosecuting attorney shall notify the defendant and the defendant's attorney of record within 30 days of the entry of a nolle prosequi either personally or in writing; such written notice shall be sent by regular mail to the defendant at the defendant's last known address and to the defendant's attorney of record.

Source: GA Code Section 17 8 3 (2014)

What Does Nolle Prossed Mean?

The odd and unfamiliar phrase "nolle prosequi meaning" requires some explanation. The concept of how and when a prosecuting lawyer can elect to end a previously true bill indictment or accusation is centuries old.

What can then occur later, once that paperwork is filed, varies from state to state. The first question to ask is, "Can a nolle prosequi case be reopened?" Where a speedy trial issue can be raised or double jeopardy based upon timing (e.g., after a jury is sworn), can be the deciding issue.

In your state, the presiding judge may have the final approval over this decision of a prosecutor in a criminal case. But in most states and commonwealths, the trial court judge has no function in overriding this disposition of the cases other than to accept the decision to null process the case.

See some more information on 4 vastly different statutes set forth below:

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