What’s a nolle (pronounced ‘nally’)?

There are a few “n” phrases in criminal court. The best is “not guilty.” A close runner-up is “nolle” (pronounced nally, rhymes with holly and collie). You will often hear state prosecutors say that they are entering nolles to criminal charges. It’s usually a good thing but what does it mean.

Nolle is short for “nolle prosequi” which is Latin for “to be unwilling to pursue,” or idiomatically, to not prosecute. We use a lot of Latin in court and also a lot of French when we are not using English. Some states use the phrase “no process” instead of nolle but the effect is the same.

In Connecticut and the other states, the state (or the Commonwealth if you are in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kentucky or Virginia) decides whether to prosecute or not to prosecute criminal charges. As I’ve written before, it is not the victim who decides to “press” charges and it also isn’t the police.

A nolle differs from a dismissal in that it is the state dropping the charge rather than the court throwing it out. The state cannot re-file a dismissed charge but it can re-file a nolle’d charge before the nolle becomes a dismissal. Why would the state do that? It could be because the nolle was agreed upon another condition, such as the defendant would not pick up a new charge. Or it could have been that the state did not have a witness or another key part to its case at that time. I recently had a client’s case nolle’d because the police accidentally destroyed the evidence against him.

After thirteen months, a nolle’d case is dismissed by the court. The state or defendant may ask for it to be dismissed sooner. Sometimes nolles are part of agreements; e.g. the defendant does community service, counseling or makes restitution or a charitable contribution (you may see this with infractions). Other times the state decides for other reasons that it cannot or does not want to prosecute the case.

What happens after a dismissal to your arrest records? That’s a topic for another post.


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