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After a Domestic Violence Assault, Can the Victim Have Charges Dismissed Against the Defendant?



Occasionally, in a domestic violence situation between partners or spouses, the victim of an assault decides he or she does not want to press charges any longer. The victim goes to the police or to the local prosecutor and asks for domestic violence assault charges to be dropped. Will the charges be dropped? In most cases, no.

The Prosecutor, Not the Victim, Is in the Driver's Seat Bringing Assault Charges

Because the victim is not the party who first charged the defendant in the domestic violence assault, the fact that he or she wants to recant or dismiss the charges often means little to nothing to the prosecutor. The case is brought by the state. The prosecutor is the one who decides whether to move forward in the case against the defendant. So, technically the victim has no power to drop charges against an alleged aggressor because criminal charges in most states are only brought by members of law enforcement bodies.

On public policy grounds alone, many jurisdictions have zero tolerance for domestic violence abuse. Localities subscribe to the logic that abuse will progressively worsen, and often those involved in the abusive situation are not in the best position to ascertain prudent next steps because of financial pressures, temporary reconciliations, or other pressures exerted by aggressors.

There is a slight exception to this general premise. That is in the instance of private criminal complaints. They are brought for small matters, such as the passage of bad checks in a retail store. But the vast majority of criminal matters are not filed by private parties such as a retail store; instead, they are filed by police officers.

As a Practical Matter, What Does a Prosecutor Do When a Victim Wants to Drop Charges?

The state may decide it is prudent to reduce charges from those originally brought. Or, alternatively, the state may offer a plea bargain agreement to the defendant that is more lenient and favorable. It is remotely possible that the state will decide to dismiss a case against a defendant for domestic violence abuse charges, as well. This rarely happens, however.

Although very undesirable, a prosecutor may still decide to move forward with a case, as originally charged, with the victim serving as a hostile witness. The prosecutor will usually continue forward with the case if he or she believes a crime was committed and has evidence to establish the case to the court. The victim is not likely to be cooperative or helpful in such instances in advancing the prosecutor's case. It may be that an experienced criminal defense attorney can exploit such an undesirable situation for the state and negotiate with the prosecutor to have the charges reduced to a lesser offense. There are certainly no guarantees in this regard.