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Can a Crime Victim ”Press” and ”Drop” a Criminal Charge?
One of the most common misconceptions surrounding the San Diego criminal justice system is that an alleged crime victim has the direct power to ”drop the charges” against the abuser. It is not uncommon for a victim, also referred to as a complaining witness, to decide they don’t want to ”press charges” against the abuser. From what we often see in detective TV shows, it appears that all it takes for the charges to be ”dropped” is that the victim says they don’t want to ”press” them. However, this is not how the process of filing or dismissing charges works.
Instead of relying on TV shows, you should always consult a criminal lawyer in San Diego for accurate information and guidance on legal issues.
Who issues/dismisses criminal charges?
Contrary to popular belief, the alleged victim doesn’t have the discretionary power to issue or dismiss a criminal charge. In other words, if they don’t want their abuser to be arrested and prosecuted, it doesn’t mean they are a decisive factor in the matter. In the State of California, issuing and dismissing charges is within the sole discretion of the prosecutor.
Nevertheless, the victim’s wishes and opinion are taken into account by the prosecutor. They can influence the prosecutor’s decision to file a charge or not, although it’s ultimately the prosecutor who has the discretionary power in this stage of the case.
What happens when the police arrives?
After a crime has been reported and the police officers arrive, the first thing they do is ascertain whether the crime has indeed been committed. The officers have to make a judgment call and determine whether a probable cause for the crime exists. If they establish a probable cause of the crime that was reported, the abuser is most likely to get arrested on the spot. Mind you that getting arrested doesn’t translate as being charged with a crime.
The police officers have to report the on-site investigation they conducted, regardless of whether an arrest has been made. The written report can also contain pictures as well as statements from the alleged victim and third-party witnesses, if there were any present.
What happens to the police reports?
In most cases, the reports are forwarded to the prosecuting agency. In San Diego County, there are two prosecuting agencies the reports are forwarded to:
- San Diego City Attorney’s Office: for misdemeanors occurring within the San Diego city limits;
- San Diego County District Attorney’s Office: for felonies happening within the city limits and elsewhere in San Diego County.
Once they receive the report, the prosecutor will conduct a ‘’case review’’ and make a decision whether to issue a charge or not. There are several factors that influence the decision but one is especially important: to issue a charge, the prosecutor has to have a good faith belief that the charge against the alleged abuser can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Factors that influence whether a charge will be issued
Below are some of the factors that have an impact on the prosecutor’s decision to either issue or dismiss the charges. These also apply when the complainant/alleged victim expresses their wish not to ‘’press’’ charges:
– the alleged abuser’s/defendant’s prior criminal history; the nature of previous charges and convictions;
– the severity of the alleged crime;
– the (non)existence of other pending charges against the defendant;
– estimated future danger the defendant may pose to the alleged victim and/or the community.
Consult a Criminal Lawyer in San Diego
No matter the similarities, each case is unique. In some cases, the prosecutor can establish that the charge can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt without any witnesses. In other cases, the testimony of a single witness can be crucial and determine whether a charge will be issued.
Whatever the case, complaining witnesses and defendants shouldn’t rely on advice from relatives, friends or neighbors because, much like TV shows, they are unlikely to provide reliable information, regardless of their good intentions. An experienced and aggressive lawyer in San Diego should be consulted in order to obtain accurate information, professional guidance and effective legal representation.
Vik Monder from Monder Law Group is San Diego’s go-to criminal attorney. Feel free to call 619-405-0063 if you have any questions about the filing process or other aspects of the criminal justice system in San Diego.