Many criminal offenses involved an alleged victim. Assault and battery, for example, involves the use of force or violence on another person. Sex crimes and domestic violence are other examples of criminal offenses that involve an alleged victim. When you are charged with a criminal offense in California the prosecutor is required to prove each element of the crime for you to be found guilty. In a criminal offense involving a victim the victim is often an essential element of the crime. For this reason, a common question defendants ask of their defense attorney is “What happens if a victim wants to drop the charges?” Defendants are often frustrated to learn that even if a victim wants to “drop the charges” that does not resolve the case.
To understand why an alleged victim cannot simply “drop the charges” you must first understand a little more about the technical aspects of a criminal prosecution. To illustrate, let’s assume that you are charged with domestic violence in California. As is usually the case we will assume that the alleged victim is your spouse. We will further assume that the charges are the result of a 911 call made by your spouse alleging that a domestic violence situation was in progress. The police arrived and although they did not actually witness any physical violence they did observe cuts or bruises on your spouse. As a result, you were arrested and charged with domestic violence.
As is frequently the case, by the time you make bail your spouse has decided that you two can work this out and does not want you to be prosecuted for domestic violence. When your spouse is contacted by the prosecutor she tells the prosecutor that she does not want to press charges, that it was all a big misunderstanding and there is no need to proceed with the case. You are both surprised to learn that the prosecutor has no intention of dropping the charges, meaning you will face domestic violence charges despite the alleged victim’s desire to drop the case.
When the police are called to the scene of an alleged crime they must make a decision whether to make an arrest or not. If an arrest is made they file a report with the prosecuting attorney’s office explaining the reason for the arrest. The prosecuting attorney then decides whether to file formal charges or not. Once formal charges have been filed the prosecuting attorney is responsible for prosecuting the case. In other words, the alleged victim does not make the decision to press charges and therefore does not have the legal authority to drop charges.
In some cases a prosecutor will make the decision not to move forward with a criminal prosecution if it is apparent that an alleged victim will not cooperate with the prosecution and the alleged victim is a necessary element in the crime. It is crucial, however, for a defendant and an alleged victim to understand that an alleged victim does not have the authority to “drop the charges” and furthermore that an alleged victim’s cooperation may not be necessary to secure a conviction.