As part of our Criminal Practice, clients sometimes explain that the victim of a crime wants to just drop the charges. They ask why the criminal case is still in court and why the prosecutor will not simply dismiss the case. This is common in assault cases and domestic violence cases. Often, the defendant and the victim have an ongoing social and/or familial relationship and the people involved are in touch with each other during the criminal case.
The first thing to understand is that a criminal case is not a case of the victim against the defendant. It is a case of the State of New Jersey against the defendant. The victim does not have the power to decide whether charges are brought or whether charges are dropped. Many people think that they can simply walk into court and the case will be dismissed just because the victim wants it dismissed. But this is not how it works. The prosecutor does not ask whether the victim wants to drop the case.
The prosecutor’s job is to prosecute those people that they believe are guilty of crimes. This could be done despite the fact that the victim expresses a desire to drop the case. A defendant could certainly be found guilty even if the victim does not want to proceed. Also, prosecutors are concerned that a victim (especially in a domestic violence case) states that they want to drop the charges because they are scared of the defendant.
At the very early stages of a criminal case, a prosecutor will generally only drop a criminal case if they are confident that they will be unable to secure a conviction. And even if that is the case, the matter would still be heard by a judge for approval. The judge needs to make sure that the prosecutor is acting appropriately, and that the victim is not being coerced or threatened.
An experienced criminal defense attorney may ultimately be able to secure a dismissal of the charges, but there is still a process. Those accused of crimes should understand this and they should not be surprised if their attorney needs to do significant legal work to secure a dismissal.