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What Does it Mean to Drop Charges in a Domestic Violence Case?

I thought it was a good time to address this question which we get quite often from individuals in and around Jacksonville, Florida about victims and alleged victims trying to drop domestic violence charges against a person who was arrested for, or charged with, a domestic violence related offense. There was a recent article on which referenced a study by the National Institute of Justice that found that incidents of domestic violence increase during difficult financial times. The article noted that money issues were the major cause leading to domestic violence. Clearly, we are going through a period that is bringing significant financial distress upon many families in Jacksonville and throughout the country.

It is not uncommon for some sort of domestic incident to occur, whether it is a heated argument, one person pushing a spouse or significant other or a more violent incident where the police are called and respond to the scene. This is often followed by an arrest and formal charges. It is also quite common for the person who called the police (the victim or alleged victim) to later decide that he/she does not want to pursue the case, i.e. wants to drop the charges. The reality is that the person who called the police or who is an alleged victim or a real victim does not have the authority to drop the charges. He/she can go to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office or local police or the prosecutor’s office and ask them to drop the case, but once the police and/or the prosecutor’s office get involved, that decision is up to them. The police or prosecutor will likely listen to what the alleged victim has to say, but he/she is not bound by anything that is said. Because of the high number of purported victims who later request to drop domestic violence charges, it is very common, perhaps more likely than not, for the police and prosecutors to pursue a domestic violence case until the very end, including a trial, when the alleged victim is not cooperating. This is particularly true where there is other evidence of domestic violence, such as independent witnesses, statements from either party or a witness and/or visible injuries that are memorialized in photographs or a police report.

This is not to say that the police or prosecutors will never drop a domestic violence case when an alleged victim makes the request. This does happen. However, there is clearly a misconception among people that when a person who claims he/she was the victim of a domestic violence incident later tells the police or the prosecutor that it did not happen or that he/she does not want to pursue the case, that means the case just goes away.