Reasons Why Criminal Charges Would Be Dropped
If criminal charges have been filed against you or one of your loved ones, try not to panic. Many cases never make it to trial, and depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be possible that the charges will be dropped. Charges against defendants are dropped for many different reasons, some of which our criminal defense lawyers will cover in this article.
Can Crime Victims Drop Criminal Charges?
Thanks to inaccurate depictions in movies and TV shows, it’s become a common misconception that the victim of an alleged crime has the power to say, “I’m dropping the charges.”
In reality, this simply isn’t true. Crime victims cannot drop charges, because they are not the ones who file the charges to begin with. This is another widespread myth.
Upon receiving information from the police department to which the crime was reported, it is actually the prosecutor who files the charges – not the victim him- or herself. However, since it is often the victim who initially reports the crime to the police, this likely explains where the confusion comes from.
On a related note, it is worth pointing out that not all arrests or police reports result in prosecution. The prosecutor has prosecutorial discretion over which cases he or she will pursue, and may decide to leave a suspect alone if there does not seem to be sufficient evidence to build a strong case. Well before trial is ever reached, during an early stage of the criminal process called the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must prove that he or she has enough evidence to take the case forward. If he or she does not, the case will not be able to proceed. Prosecutors do not want to waste their time on shaky cases which they know will not make it past the preliminary hearing stage.
We’ve established that prosecutors, not victims, are the ones who file (and drop) criminal charges. But why would a prosecutor decide to drop charges in the first place? There are numerous factors which can come into play.
The victim is one of these factors – just not to the extent that people tend to imagine. While the victim does not have the legal authority to actually drop the charges, charges can still be dropped because of a victim’s intervention. If a victim expresses a desire that the charges be dropped, as is often the case in situations involving allegations of domestic violence like assault, the prosecutor will take the victim’s wishes into account. However, the prosecutor still holds the final decision-making authority, and does not have to drop the charges simply because the victim requests it.
Reasons Why a Prosecutor Would Decide to Drop a Case
Besides a lack of evidence or honoring a victim’s request, what are some common reasons a prosecutor would drop charges against a defendant?
- Insufficient resources. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much attention a single prosecutor can devote to a given case. Sometimes, prosecutors simply have to prioritize and be pragmatic. If a prosecutor wants (or needs) to focus on a serious felony like murder or sexual assault, a lesser charge like a nonviolent misdemeanor might be dropped. This is especially true in cases where the defendant is a first-time offender with an otherwise clean record.
- New evidence arises. This might include newly uncovered video footage, DNA evidence, computer evidence, etc. Of course, this cuts both ways: new evidence might also arise which helps the prosecution instead of the defense. Evidence which aids the defense is called exculpatory evidence, while evidence which aids the prosecution is called inculpatory evidence. (It comes from the Latin word culpa, meaning fault or guilt.)
- Inadmissible evidence. This is the opposite of the scenario above. Even if no exculpatory emerges to aid the defense, the judge might find the prosecutor’s evidence is inadmissible and therefore cannot be used in court, no matter how convincing it is.
- Evidence is lost. In yet another scenario, the prosecutor could lose some of his or her best (otherwise admissible) evidence. For example, a witness may decide not to come forward.
What To Do in the Aftermath of an Arrest or Citation to Give Yourself the Best Chance of Getting the Charges Dropped
In Pennsylvania, you can either be cited or arrested if you are charged with a crime. For some low-level crimes and infractions like most traffic matters, the officer will simply write you a citation on it with the court date on it and then let you go on your way. One thing that you should not do in this situation is simply throw the citation aside and act like it never happened. If you fail to appear for court as required, the judge will likely issue a bench warrant for your arrest, meaning you can be arrested and brought before the court at any time. Instead, reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Young, Marr & Associates as soon as possible after you are cited so that we can try to get in touch with the prosecutor and get the entire matter resolved, and hopefully dropped, in a single court appearance.
Most of the time when the police believe someone has committed a crime, however, they will place them under arrest. Sometime the arrest will occur on the spot if the officer personally witnesses the commission of the crime or otherwise has probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. Other times, there will be an investigation into the crime. As part of the investigation, the police may try to interview you or search your home, vehicle, or other personal property. You should never consent to a search unless the police have a warrant, and you should never agree to speak to the police without a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Young, Marr & Associates by your side. Even if you have nothing to hide, the officers are able to twist your words and use them against you in a later court case.
Once the police believe they have enough evidence to arrest you, they will apply to a judge for an arrest warrant. If the judge believes that probable cause exists and grants the warrant, the officers will usually act on it immediately by coming to your home, place of business, or wherever else you may be in order to place you under arrest. Again, to give yourself the best chance of getting the charges dropped, do not speak to the officers or answer any questions until you have a lawyer present to advise you on what you should and should not say.
After your arrest, you will be transported to the local police station for the booking process, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed. Within 72 hours of booking, your initial appearance and bail hearing, where the judge will decide if you can be released from jail while the case is pending, will occur. As such, it is vitally important that you reach out to an experienced local attorney like those at Young, Marr & Associates as soon after your arrest as possible so we have the time to prepare for and appear with you at this hearing.
What Happens if the Charges Against You are Not Dropped?
If the charges have not been dropped, then at your arraignment, where you are asked to enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty, your attorney is likely to advise you to plead not guilty while we work to try to get the prosecutor to dismiss the charges. The plea can easily be changed to guilty later if you wish to take some sort of deal. If our efforts in trying to get the entire matter dropped are unsuccessful, a deal is exactly where we will turn our attentions, by trying to negotiate some sort of plea arrangement with the prosecutor.
One of the most common plea deals involves the prosecutor downgrading the charge against you, or amending it to something less serious, in exchange for you entering a guilty plea and saving the case the time and costs associated with putting on a trial. For example, if you were charged with aggravated assault but the prosecutor does not believe their case is strong, we may be able to convince them to downgrade the charge to simple assault. This can make a big difference when it comes to sentencing and other matters, as simple assault is a misdemeanor while aggravated assault is a felony. Even if the prosecutor is not willing to downgrade the charge, we may be able to convince them to recommend a lenient sentence to the judge in exchange for your guilty plea. The judge will almost always follow the suggestion of the prosecutor.
Of course, these deals will still leave you with a criminal record that could haunt you when applying for jobs, professional licensure, or for certain forms of financial aid in the future. As such, you may not want to take a deal, preferring to contest your innocence at trial. In a sense, the ultimate “dropping” of the charges is a verdict of not guilty in the courtroom.
Our battle-tested trial attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates are always ready and able to fight for your innocence in the courtroom. However, there are some times we may think that a deal is the better option, and we will give you our honest advice, which you can choose to take or leave. In most cases, you will have the right to a trial by a jury of 12 of your peers who must unanimously vote to convict you. In some cases, you will only have the right to a bench trial before a single judge who will rule on guilt or innocence. In the case of a jury trial, if the jury cannot come to a unanimous conclusion, a mistrial will be declared and you can technically be tried again. In the case of an acquittal, however, the case will be considered over, you will not have a criminal record, and the same charges cannot be brought against you again.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, or if someone you love has been placed under arrest, you need a knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney on your side. To set up a free, private consultation, call the law offices of Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 for New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 for Pennsylvania. We will keep your information confidential.