Ask the Attorney: The person who pressed charges against me now wants to drop them. What happens next?

If you are facing criminal prosecution in Seattle, hearing that the person who pressed charges against you now wants to drop them may come as an immense relief. However, the decision to do so rests not with the alleged victim but with the attorneys prosecuting the case – though the accuser’s change of heart could affect the outcome. Working with an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights and make the most of this potential opportunity.

The Role of the Victim in Criminal Prosecutions

If someone believes they have been the victim of criminal wrongdoing, they have the right to file a complaint with law enforcement authorities. In many cases, local or state prosecutors will decide to bring charges against the person the alleged victim claims committed the criminal act. Yet sometimes, the accuser decides they no longer want to be involved in the investigation, and they inform the police that they would like to drop charges. However, at this point, the accuser does not have the power to stop the prosecution from proceeding with their case.

Prosecutorial Discretion

The decision to drop charges against someone accused of a crime rests solely with the prosecution, though a judge must approve their decision. If the accuser decides to disengage from the investigation, the prosecutor will use their discretion to weigh factors such as:

  • Whether they have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction without the cooperation of the alleged victim
  • Whether other credible witnesses have refuted the accuser’s original story
  • The strength of the physical evidence in the case
  • The emergence of new physical evidence that may exonerate the accused
  • The possibility of a plea bargain for lesser charges

Legal Implications for the Accuser

An accuser’s decision to request that the prosecution drop charges may carry certain legal consequences. Prosecutors may compel the accuser to testify or face charges of contempt of court. The accuser could also face charges of filing a false police report, obstructing justice, or perjury if their story changes substantially. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise the accused on whether and how the accuser’s change of heart may affect their case.  The accuser who has had a change of heart and is now changing or recanting their story of abuse may also benefit from having their own lawyer advise them.

The Process of Dropping Charges

How are charges dropped in Washington State? The process involves the following steps:

  • The accuser must submit a formal request to the district attorney/prosecutor that the charges be dropped.  Sometimes cases are dismissed even if the accuser wants the case to go forward.  Conversely, sometimes a case will be prosecuted even if the accuser wants the case dismissed.
  • The prosecutor then reviews the evidence and strength of the case without the accuser’s cooperation.  If a case can be proved without the cooperation of the accuser and the prosecutor believes a crime has been committed, the prosecutor will very likely move forward with the prosecution.
  • The prosecutor determines it is not in the interest of justice to move forward with their case.
  • The prosecutor then files a motion or request with the court to dismiss the charges.
  • The judge reviews the motion to dismiss the charges and approves it.
  • The court updates records to reflect that charges have been dropped against the accused.

Depending on the court’s calendar, this process can take several weeks to months. The accused should be patient and work closely with their lawyer during this time.

Protecting Your Rights

If the accuser has changed their mind about pressing charges against you, it is critical that you understand the case against you (the accused) will not simply go away. It’s still important to follow your lawyer’s advice and decline to talk to police or investigators further without them present. They can handle communications on your behalf and will advise you further as necessary.

You could still need to appear in court even if the accuser drops out. Furthermore, prosecutors can compel the accuser to participate even if they don’t want to. Be patient, and trust the advice and guidance of your criminal defense lawyer. Staying quiet, showing up when required, and letting your lawyer do their work can help lead to the best resolution.

Seeking Legal Counsel

When you are facing criminal charges, every day can feel like a new challenge. This can be particularly true if your case takes an unexpected turn. While the uncertainty can be stressful, working with a criminal defense attorney who has solid relationships with Seattle prosecutors can reduce the anxiety you’re feeling and lay the groundwork for a successful resolution. Get in touch with Jennifer Horwitz Law today to learn more about your legal options.