When you face an assault charge, you likely have already spent time in jail and been released on bail. At that point, you have, at least, spoken with a public defender who impressed upon you the seriousness of the situation. Many people in this situation, especially where the alleged victim is an intimate partner, believe that it will all go away if that person “drops the charges.” Are they right?
The myth of dropped charges
It is a myth that a Napa County reported victim has the ability to drop or press charges on anyone. The fact of the matter is that in the United States, every crime, regardless of severity, is not considered a crime against an individual. Instead, our criminal justice system treats all crimes as offenses against the community.
How do you get charged?
Normally, the Sonoma County investigative body in charge of criminal enforcement charges the alleged wrongdoer. For example, for state or city-level crimes, usually, your local police department will file the charges. Generally, that initial charge will lead to some kind of incarceration until bail is set. However, whether one is prosecuted is up to the prosecutor.
After a person is charged, the California prosecuting attorney will decide whether to prosecute the charges. If they elect to drop the charges, you do not have to worry about being prosecuted. On the other hand, if they decide to prosecute the charges, you will need to either take a plea deal negotiated by your attorney or fight the charges in court. In other words, once you are charged, the only one who can drop those charges is the prosecuting attorney.
So, the victim has no say in the matter?
Legally, no. California prosecutors give great weight to the victim’s wishes when deciding whether to prosecute. If the victim refuses to participate, the prosecutor may elect not to proceed due to a lack of evidence. There may be enough evidence without the victim’s testimony to still prosecute. In rare instances, the prosecutor may subpoena (force) the victim to testify.