Often in movies and TV, you’ll hear phrases like “the victim is not pressing charges.” As a result, there is a common misconception in our culture that the victim (especially of assault or domestic violence) chooses whether the suspect gets charged with a crime. This is not true.
The party bringing the charges is not the victim, but the state. That’s why criminal cases are titled something like “The People of the State of Michigan v. Dirk Defendant.” Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys (APAs) represent the People of Michigan, or, put differently, they look out for the public’s interest in preventing and punishing crime.
Sometimes, especially in assault cases, the victim wants a different outcome than the People do. Example: Paulie Provoker picks on Dirk Defendant constantly. Eventually, Dirk snaps and socks Paulie right in the jaw. The police arrest Dirk and the Prosecutor charges him with simple assault.
Later, Paulie decides he kind of deserved the punch and tells the APA to drop the charges. But the APA decides that the People of Michigan would want to punish Dirk for escalating the situation to violence. Despite Paulie’s wishes, the APA refuses to dismiss the charges.
Sometimes, this is a good thing. I think I agree that Dirk Defendant should face consequences for resorting to violence.
Other times, I’m not so sure. False reports of crimes are rare, but they are not unheard of. Sometimes, when a victim chooses not to press charges, what they’re really saying is “I lied to the police and now I feel guilty about it, but I also don’t want to get in trouble for lying to the police.” This has happened to a number of my past clients, and APAs only rarely dismiss those charges.
But that’s not meant as an attack on the Prosecutor’s Office. For every victim who wants to drop charges because they made the charges up, there are probably five victims who have been intimidated into dropping the charges, even though the charges are accurate. The Prosecutor’s Office is in a difficult position, and sometimes good people are wrongfully accused.
In short, if you are charged with a crime, don’t expect the charges to go away just because the victim wants them to.
This post is meant for information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Always consult with an attorney before making important legal decisions.