One of the most common misperceptions about the criminal justice system is that an alleged victim has the ability to “drop the charges” in a criminal prosecution. A better understanding of how the criminal justice system works is necessary to understand why this is not the case. Before an arrest is even made, law enforcement officers are called to the scene. Once upon a time, it was common for law enforcement officers to operate from a position of “unless someone is seriously hurt, just let them work it out.” Today, however, law enforcement agencies often have strict policies regarding domestic violence calls that require officers to make an arrest. Another misconception about the criminal justice system is that police officers decide what charges are filed against a defendant. Law enforcement officers, however, do not make charging decisions. Police officers do file a report with the prosecuting attorney’s office and that report will be used when deciding what charges, if any, to file against a defendant.
The State of Tennessee Controls Criminal Prosecutions
It is the State of Tennessee, through the prosecuting attorney’s office, that makes charging decisions. As such, only the State can “drop” (dismiss) charges once they have been filed. This is the case in all criminal prosecutions; however, it is particularly important in domestic assault cases because as a matter of policy the State does not want an alleged victim to have the power to decide whether an abuser is prosecuted or not. Putting an alleged victim in that position leaves them vulnerable to even more abuse and once commonly led to victims recanting for fear of repercussions from the abuser.
What Happens If the Victim Does Not Want the Defendant Convicted?
Of course, the fact that a victim cannot directly drop charges does not mean that all victims want the accused to be convicted. It also does not mean that the alleged victim has no influence over the case. The prosecuting attorney will usually try and contact the alleged victim shortly after an arrest. Depending on the facts and circumstances (particularly the severity of any injuries), the prosecutor may rely heavily on the alleged victim’s wishes/attitude when making a charging decision. If it appears that it truly was just an argument that got a little out of hand and the alleged victim does not seem interested in seeing the defendant convicted, charges may never be officially filed or may be dismissed if they were filed. Most of the time, the prosecuting attorney must rely on the alleged victim’s testimony to convict the defendant. If it is apparent that the alleged victim is unwilling to provide that testimony, the State may be forced to dismiss the case. In that way, a victim can influence what happens in a criminal prosecution without directly controlling the outcome.
Keep in mind, however, that if a judge issued a “no contact” order at your initial hearing following an arrest, you must abide by that order unless and until it is vacated. Contacting the alleged victim can lead to additional criminal charges, even if you do not try to exert influence over him/her. Threatening, or otherwise trying to coerce, the alleged victim in a domestic assault case while a no contact order is in place will almost certainly land you back in jail and lead to serious additional charges filed against you.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Lawyer
If you have been charged with domestic assault in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. In Tennessee contact a Murfreesboro criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby to discuss your legal options. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.
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