Can a Prosecutor Drop Charges at the Victim’s Request?

If you are a victim of a crime, you might wonder what will happen if you decide that you do not want the criminal case to go forward. Do you have the power to make the charges go away? Can a prosecutor drop charges at the victim’s request?

Whether you are the victim or the person charged with a crime, a Washington criminal defense attorney can talk to you and explain your rights. 

Who Has the Power to Drop Criminal Charges?

A victim cannot get criminal charges dropped merely by asking the prosecutor to do so. While it might not hurt to let the prosecutor know how you feel, the prosecutor cannot dismiss the charges without additional justification. 

A prosecutor can only drop charges with the approval of the judge. The judge will require more than the victim’s wishes to allow the prosecutor to dismiss criminal charges.

When Is a Prosecutor Allowed to Drop Criminal Charges?

There are two main categories of prosecutor decisions not to go forward with a criminal case against a defendant:

Dropping the Criminal Charges

Charges got filed, but there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. The prosecutor might feel that the defendant committed the crime, but without adequate credible evidence, the prosecutor can ask the judge for permission to dismiss the charges.

Declining to Prosecute

Sometimes, a prosecutor can decline to prosecute even if there might be enough evidence to go forward with the case. Far more crimes happen than prosecutors could possibly take to trial. Prosecutors often have to go with their strongest cases and the ones that are most compelling. For example, the kidnapping of a child will get more resources from the prosecutor’s office than a jaywalking case.

Also, even when there is technically enough evidence, the prosecutor can decide not to prosecute in situations like these:

  • Prosecuting the case would serve no public purpose.
  • Going forward with the case would defeat the underlying purpose of the criminal statute.
  • Decreased respect for the law would result from prosecuting the defendant.

Sometimes the law in question is antiquated in that no one has enforced the law for many years, and it serves no purpose of protection or deterrence anymore. 

Why Does Washington State Law Prevent a Victim from Dropping Criminal Charges?

One reason that our state laws restrict a prosecutor’s power to drop filed criminal charges is to protect the victims. If a prosecutor had to dismiss charges because a victim requested that action, perpetrators of crimes would threaten victims to ask the prosecutor to do so. Removing that power from victims protects them from being pressured by the accused.

Some victims feel that getting the charges dropped will stop retaliation against them by the defendant. In situations of domestic violence or elder abuse, for example, the victim might have an ongoing relationship with the accused because they have children in common or the accused is the senior’s caregiver. 

In addition to those reasons, in some incidents, there are multiple victims. If some victims want the prosecution to go forward, dropping the charges at the request of one victim would be unfair to the others.

A Washington criminal defense attorney can advocate for you if you find yourself facing criminal charges. Contact Jennifer today to set up a consultation.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.