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What happens when an alleged victim wants to drop charges?

In domestic violence cases, things are usually out of hand before the law ever gets involved. Emotions are high and those involved are not thinking clearly. Emotions may cause people to say things they don't mean and do things they later regret.

In the heat of an altercation of domestic violence, alleged victims often agree to press charges out of anger, and soon after attempt to retract those charges. Can they drop charges and have their alleged abuser set free?

Unfortunately, it is not up to the alleged victim to press charges or to drop charges. Once the accused has been charged, it is up to the district or prosecuting attorney to make that decision. The DA will review the facts of the case as reported by law enforcement and then make a decision as to whether to drop all charges or press charges. If the prosecution choose to press charges, he or she will either file a misdemeanor or a felony charge against the accused.

Once charges have been filed, an arraignment hearing is held. If the defendant is in jail, the first hearing, which is called an arraignment, must be held within 48 to 72 hours after being jailed. The arraignment may not be held for quite some time if the person charged is not in jail.

When the arraignment takes place, the defendant has the option of pleading "guilty," "not guilty" or "no contest." Pleading "guilty" or "no contest" may result in immediate sentencing by the judge.

Pleading "not guilty" to a misdemeanor charge results in the judge setting a date for a pretrial conference. This gives the defendant an opportunity to consult an attorney. Pleading "not guilty" to a felony charge results in the judge setting up a preliminary hearing, where the judge decides if there is enough evidence for the DA to prosecute the case.

If possible, a person accused of domestic violence should contact an attorney as soon as possible. If the defendant has been taken to jail, he or she may think pleading "not guilty" or "no contest" is the best option at his or her arraignment, allowing the judge to make a hasty sentencing without having all of the evidence for a fair evaluation of the charges. An attorney can ensure that the defendant knows his or her options and can work with the DA to minimize the consequences.

Source: California Courts, "Criminal Court Process," accessed May. 28, 2015

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