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Understanding the Decision: Can a Domestic Violence Victim Drop Charges?

We often hear from victims of domestic violence who ask, “Can I drop the charges against my husband/wife/partner/spouse.” Typically, they follow that up by saying, “Yeah, well I told the police that I want to drop the charges.” or, “I told the district attorney that I want to drop the charges and they haven’t.”

This is because it is not the victim or complaining witness’s right to drop charges. If a report has been made, the police will do their investigation and arrest somebody as they see fit. That report is then forwarded to the district attorney’s office and the district attorney will look at it and decide whether charges should be filed. So, simply put, you cannot drop domestic violence charges. Only the district attorney has the authority to drop charges.

The District Attorney’s (DA’s) Role

The district attorney will determine if there is sufficient information included in the initial report for them to make a complaint and file charges against the suspect. Once that happens, the case is titled the people of the State of California versus “John Doe” and the case proceeds. The victim or complaining witness does not have the right to dismiss the case since it’s not their case, but rather California’s case.

If you call the district attorney, they might take your feelings into consideration in terms of how or what type of offer they are going to make, and they will probably note whether you’re cooperative. Unfortunately, that is not going to convince them or force them into getting rid of the case.

What We See Happen in Domestic Violence Cases

Some things that we see happen frequently is that the complaining witness will show up to court and sometimes we will help facilitate them in speaking to the district attorney or the judge and say that they don’t want a criminal protective order in place. This is so that the parties can reunify and be back together during this process.

The fact that the complaining witness is cooperative may go into how we proceed with the trial or how we negotiate the case. However, it is not a guaranteed dismissal just because somebody has changed their story or because they want to take back the fact that they called the police.

Victim Rights in Domestic Violence Cases

There are a number of different rights that are given to victims in the state of California. They have the right not to cooperate with defense attorneys or cooperate with anybody that’s acting on the defendant’s behalf. They also have the right to not be punished if they refuse to testify. If they’re given a subpoena, however, they do have to show up to court. But, they can’t be punished with jail for refusing to testify.

There are other things that can happen to them such as fines, but going to jail isn’t one of them as long as they show up and no refusal takes place.

There are some nuances to what the victim’s rights are, whom they’re cooperating with, and which rights they want to enforce. Unfortunately for us, victims do not have the right to drop the case.

Work with an Experienced Domestic Violence Lawyer

If you or your partner are facing domestic violence charges in the Bay Area or Sacramento, The Nieves Law Firm may be able to help. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team and see how we can help you fight your domestic violence charges.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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