Can a District attorney pursue a case for domestic assault if the victim refuses to press charges?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “If my partner filed a domestic assault charge against me, but later decided they did not want the case pursued, does this force the district attorney to drop the case or can they continue the case without the alleged victim’s cooperation?”

Domestic violence and pursuing a legal case

Domestic violence is a very serious offense and can include a variety of actions by one partner against another. Whether it is between spouses, couples, or roommates, the United States government considers domestic assault a serious charge.

Common types of domestic assault actions can include:

  • Punching, slapping, kicking, or biting a partner.
  • Forcing your partner to perform sexual activities against their will.
  • Threatening violence or intimidating your partner.

Other domestic abuse actions can also be very serious and can include forced isolation of your partner, controlling monetary resources, and emotionally abusing your partner through words or other abusive actions.

Filing a criminal charge against someone for domestic violence

In a domestic abuse case it is not the victim or the police who will decide whether or not criminal charges should be filed against a defendant. Although the victim may file a complaint, present evidence of the offense, and agree to testify against the accused, the district attorney will decide whether or not to file domestic abuse charges.

It is not uncommon, especially in domestic assault cases, for the victim to later change their mind and decide they do not want the case pursued. This occurs for a variety of reasons. For instance, the victim may be afraid of their partner, they may have made a misidentification, or they may have decided they want the relationship to continue.

So what happens if the victim filed charges against his or her partner and then decided they do not want the case pursued? They can ask the state to drop the charges, but it will be the prosecutor and not the victim who will make the decision.

State may offer a plea bargain or drop the charges

In reality, however, if there is not much evidence except the testimony of the victim, the prosecution may be forced to drop the charges without the cooperation of the accused. This is because they know they cannot win their case without the accuser’s testimony.

Another option for the state if they want to pursue charges but fear they may have insufficient evidence to win their case in court is to offer the accused a plea bargain. This step will alleviate the need to convince the court the accused is guilty but will allow for the accused to still be punished for their crime.

The state has zero tolerance for domestic abuse

Why is the state so determined to prosecute a domestic violence charge without the victim’s help? They understand the progressive nature of domestic abuse.

Although it is not out of the question that an abuser may be able to get help, legal experts have seen many cases get worse, not better. They also understand that domestic assault victims are often under other pressures, many of which are exerted on them by the aggressor. For this reason the victims are not always the best ones to make legal decisions about domestic violence cases and whether or not they should be legally pursued.

Bottom Line:

Victims do not decide whether or not someone accused of assaulting them will be charged with a crime. Only the district attorney’s office can decide whether to charge someone with a crime. The victim can, however, choose how much they want to help the prosecution make their case against the accused. Consider, however, if the accused changes their story too much they could be charged with filing a false police report.

If you have been accused of domestic assault and the state has decided to press charges against you, you will need to discuss your case with a criminal lawyer.

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