Federal Judge Drops Bank Bandit Charges

I did not see this one coming. A federal judge decided that there’s not enough evidence against the alleged Benzie and Leelanau bank robber to sustain federal charges. Perhaps it’s because they never found the money, who knows. Leelanau Judge Larry Nelson previously decided that there was enough evidence to pursue charges.

The standard in a state preliminary hearing is – did a crime occur and is it more likely than not that the defendant committed it? The standard in a federal preliminary hearing is – did a crime occur and is it more likely than not that the defendant committed it? (Check out Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 5.1(e).)

So let that sink in. Same hearing, same burden, different result. Perhaps the attorneys presented the evidence differently. Perhaps reasonable minds can differ. Maybe the charges are a little bit different for the state and federal charges. Maybe the justice you get depends in part on the judge you have? At least that’s the argument that people make when they say this legal standard leaves way too much room for interpretation for judges to apply it uniformly and effectively.

What happens now that the federal charges are dismissed?

Leelanau prosecutors can refile their charges. Benzie prosecutors can also still bring charges against the man for the first time. He also faces taser charges in Grand Traverse County.

How can the Leelanau prosecutor refile charges that were previously dismissed?

If a state prosecutor changes their mind about bringing charges, the court can dismiss the charges without prejudice. The formal word for dismissing a charge is called nolle prosequi. When the prosecutor voluntarily dismisses the charges, the case hasn’t gotten to the adjudication on the merits. The case is still in the preliminary stages. The Leelanau bank robbery charges never got to trial, so the prosecutor is free to file the charges again.

It will be interesting to see what a jury decides about the strength of the evidence.

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