Many criminal offenses include an alleged victim. Theft, rape, and domestic battery, for example, include a victim as part of the crime. Sometimes, the alleged victim has a change of heart after reporting the crime and doesn’t want to pursue the matter. This, in turn, often leads to the question “Do I have to show up in court if I don’t want to prosecute?” A better understanding of the criminal case prosecution process in San Diego will help you understand why the answer to that question is not a simple one.
Because domestic violence cases are the type of cases in which the alleged victim changes his or her mind the most frequently, we will use that as an example to help explain how a criminal case is prosecuted. Typically, the alleged victim, or a witness/bystander will make a call to the police alleging that a domestic violence situation is taking place. Sometimes, an alleged victim will make a report after the fact; however, for the purpose of our example let’s assume a call is made while the crime is occurring. The police arrive at the scene and question the parties involved. The police will also generally look for obvious signs of violence such as cuts, bruising, or torn clothing. The police have the authority to make an arrest, and often do so, even if the alleged victim claims that a crime was not committed.
Once an arrest is made the police officer will turn over a report to the prosecuting attorney’s office. At that point, a prosecutor will review the report and decide whether or not to charge the alleged perpetrator. The prosecutor may attempt to contact the alleged victim before making a charging decision or may not, depending on the facts of the case. Once the decision to charge the (now) defendant has been made the only way the charges can be dropped is if the State of California, through the prosecuting attorney, agrees to drop the charges.
Although a victim is an important part of a domestic battery case, the victim does not have the authority to “drop the charges” or “decide not to prosecute” independently. At some point the prosecutor will likely issue a subpoena to the victim if the victim has not voluntarily cooperated with the prosecution. A subpoena is a court order to appear. Failing to appear after being served with a subpoena can lead to your arrest. Although the prosecution cannot force you to testify against the defendant, the prosecution does usually have the power to order you to appear in court.
If you have been subpoenaed to appear in a criminal case prosecution in San Diego where you are the alleged victim and you do not want to testify against the defendant you need to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away. Simply not showing up for court can result in serious problems for you so should not be considered an option.