Dropped charges and dismissed cases are some of the best outcomes a criminal defendant could ever have. It means there won’t be a trial, you’re not going to jail, and nothing is going on your criminal record.
But it’s important to understand what’s happening when charges are dropped, what it means for your case, who can do it, and why it’s happening.
Who Can Drop Charges?
Bad news first: the victim of the crime cannot drop charges.
Once the cops make an arrest only the DA can do that. The DA may take the victim’s wishes into account, but he or she has the option not to.
In New York, all crimes are considered to be crimes against the state, not crimes against individuals. The victim is just a witness in the case against you. The victim might stymie the prosecution by refusing to testify or cooperate, but nevertheless has no power to put a stop to the process.
This is any victim, any crime, though the question comes up most often in domestic violence cases.
Cops do occasionally ask, “Do you want to press charges?”
What they’re really asking is: “Do you want us to make an arrest?” The cop has leeway to arrest or not arrest as he or she sees fit. That ability to make a determination is actually considered to be part of the criminal justice process.
In essence your case goes through several “gates” before it can get all the way to trial. These gates are decisions various people make along the way. First the cop has to decide you are guilty enough to arrest. Then the DA has to decide he or she has enough to prosecute. Then a Grand Jury must make the same determination. And then the petit jury must determine guilt or innocence.
So at that singular point, you do have some power. But you have to decide there. If you say, “Yes,” the cop will make the arrest, and it will be out of your hands from there on out.
What’s the difference between dismissed charges and dropped charges?
Charges can be dropped at any point in the process, all the way up to the date of your trial. Charges can only be dismissed after they’ve been filed in the first place.
But the real thing you want to pay attention to is whether the charges are dropped or dismissed with or without prejudice. If they’re dropped or dismissed without prejudice, the state can’t bring the same charges against you for the same crime. They can charge you for the same sort of crime on a different day at a different time and place though, so you’ll want to watch yourself afterward.
If they’re dropped or dismissed with prejudice the DA is reserving the right to press charges again if further evidence comes to light. This is the most likely scenario. The good news is this: if the DA is dropping or dismissing charges due to insufficient evidence there might not be any more evidence to find. If that is the case, you can probably breathe easy.
Why might the DA drop charges?
There are three common reasons why this happens.
- The cops performed an illegal search.
- The cops didn’t have probable cause to search you or interfere with you in the first place.
- There isn’t enough evidence to charge you with this crime.
See also: How a New York Lawyer Gets Charges Dismissed.
Your lawyer’s first move should be to see if one of those three scenarios applies. If so, he or she should then try to work with the DA to get the charges dropped or dismissed. Sometimes, this will lead to a plea bargain wherein the charges are reduced. It will be up to you to take that or not.
Once the DA declines to drop or dismiss it’s probably not going to happen. At that point, it would be time to start looking for other solutions.
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