Monday, June 19, 2017

How Can I Drop Domestic Violence Charges?

Here's a situation that our office sees very frequently:  A couple (married, dating, etc.) has a big, blowup argument.  The police show up and one party accuses the other of domestic violence.  Someone spends the night in jail.  The police conduct an investigation and the DA files criminal charges against the party that they determine to be "the aggressor".

By the time the case ends up in court, emotions have cooled, the parties have attended some counseling and the "victim" no longer desires the involvement of the courts.  She asks prosecutors to drop the case, but they refuse.  Instead, the DA proceeds "full speed ahead", with or without cooperation from the reporting party / "victim". 

Many of my clients are surprised to learn that an alleged victim of domestic violence cannot simply "drop the charges" in California.  The decision of whether to file / drop criminal cases is made by the District Attorney's Office.  Prosecutors may consult with victims, but they're not legally required to follow a victim's wishes.  

When a victim asks to drop charges (or indicates that she will not cooperate in a prosecution), the DA must decide whether or not they believe that they have a strong case without their victim's testimony.  The evidence might include a recorded 911 call where the victim describes events as they're happening ("He's hitting me now! Help!").  The suspect might be heard in the background shouting threats.  The police might have recorded an interview with the victim near the time of the incident in which she discusses her injuries and how they occurred.  Cops might have photographed the injuries to corroborate the reporting party's story.  Maybe other witness tell police that they saw the suspect personally striking the victim, etc.  In those situations, prosecutors will aggressively follow through with a criminal prosecution even if the victim asks them to dismiss the case.  Their reasoning is easy to understand -- they can prove that the suspect has committed a serious, violent crime against the People of the State of California.  He shouldn't be allowed to intimidate his victim into recanting her story.  Prosecutors have a responsibility to protect vulnerable citizens and to seek justice against those who would do them harm.  Plus, they don't need the victim's testimony to win a conviction.  There's enough independent evidence to prove the charges even without her cooperation.  That much makes sense.  

Most cases aren't that cut and dry, though.  A fact pattern that I see more commonly goes like this: Both parties have been drinking or using drugs and arguing.  At some point, one party (or a neighbor, or a stranger) calls police to report something nebulous ("I think they're fighting or something.  I heard a loud noise", etc.).  When the police show up, one party or both accuses the other of domestic violence.  There are no injuries, witnesses or physical evidence to support the accusations, but cops take a report anyway.  By the time the case ends up in court, the accuser changes her story.  Maybe she admits that she exaggerated a little, or even that she was the aggressor.  In these situations, an ethical prosecutor should consider the interests of justice, the wishes of the parties, the cost to taxpayers, the burden to the court system, and their priorities in general.  When those considerations tilt in favor of dropping the case, they should do so. 

But these guys didn't get to be overpaid government employees by making reasonable decisions.  Often, prosecutors need a little arm-twisting to help them come to their senses.  That's where we step in.  Our professional staff can help dig you out of a hole without making the hole any deeper.  We have extensive experience defending against all types of domestic violence cases in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.  We can deal directly with investigators, witnesses and prosecutors to ensure that your rights are protected.  Domestic violence charges may carry harsh, mandatory penalties.  They're complicated, emotional matters and they require the attention of an expert. 

If you or a loved one has questions about domestic violence, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading.