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Nolle prosequi (pronounced /ˈnɒli ˈprɒsəkwaɪ/;[1] Latin: [ˈnolːe ˈproːsekwiː]) is a Latin legal phrase meaning "to be unwilling to pursue."[2] It is the term used in many common law criminal jurisdictions to describe a prosecutor's application to discontinue criminal charges before trial, or up until, but before verdict.[3]



Nolle prosequi is a Latin term meaning "to be unwilling to prosecute".

It is a declaration made by a prosecutor in a criminal case or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The declaration may be made because the charges cannot be proved, the evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim, or the prosecutor no longer thinks the accused is guilty, and/or the accused has died. It is generally made after indictment, but is not a guarantee that the person will not be reindicted.

In civil cases, a nolle prosequi may be entered as to one of several counts or to one of several defendants. In a criminal case, it has been held improper for a court to enter an order of nolle prosequi on its own without a motion by the prosecutor. As long as a jury trial has not been commenced, the entry of a nolle prosequi is not an adjudication on the merits of the prosecution, and the legal protection against double jeopardy will not automatically bar the charges from being brought again in some fashion.

Nolle prosequi is similar to a declination of prosecution, which is an agreement not to prosecute which may be made by an attorney, but also by the aggrieved party. In contrast, nolle prosequi is usually made after a decision to prosecute has already been made. A declination of prosecution may be made for many reasons, such as weak evidence or a conflict of interest.

Notable cases


  1. ^ "nolle prosequi". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  2. ^
  3. ^ A nolle prosequi can be entered at any time after the indictment or information has been signed and before verdict: R v Dunn (supra); R v Colling (1847) 2 Cox CC 184; R v Sneesby (1951) St R Qd 26; R v Economou (1989) 51 SASR 421; R v Heald (1979) Tas R 185 source: R v Michael Charles Baenisch SASC 5679 (28 June 1996) para. 12
  4. ^ Mckenna, Marian C. (2002). Franklin Roosevelt and the great constitutional war. Fordham University Press. pp. 9.  
  5. ^ Boyle, Kevin, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age (Henry Holt & Company, New York: 2004) (National Book Award Winner). ISBN 0805079335; ISBN 978-0805079333.
  6. ^ Devlin, 1985
  7. ^ a b Cullen, 2006
  • Courts seldom adjudicate on the application for nolle prosequi. Instead, courts typically sign an order prepared by the prosecution or make a docket entry reflecting the case has been "nolle pros'ed."
  • Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 48(a)

See also


  • Cullen, Pamela V. (2006) A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams, London : Elliott & Thompson, ISBN 1-904027-19-9
  • Devlin, Patrick (1985) Easing the Passing : the trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams, London : The Bodley Head, ISBN 0-370-30627-9


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