(US law) Sometimes a domestic violence victim decides that they would prefer not to press charges. In some states, however, that decision is made solely by a prosecuting attorney. Though a prosecutor may take the wishes of a victim into account, the ultimate decision to charge a domestic violence suspect is usually determined by the strength of the available evidence. Once the police become involved in an alleged domestic violence incident, the victim may have little to say about the ultimate disposition of a domestic violence case.
Who Files Criminal Charges?
Generally speaking, there are three different entities that can file domestic violence charges against an alleged perpetrator:
- The state attorney general may choose to file domestic violence charges in an especially high-profile case.
- The prosecuting attorney of each county is responsible for filing felony charges for crimes that are committed within the boundaries of the county. County prosecutors also handle misdemeanor charges in the unincorporated areas of a county.
- City prosecutors file misdemeanor charges within the designated city limits. The city may use an in-house attorney that has been designated to serve in the role of a prosecutor or an outside attorney that was hired specifically to prosecute criminal cases.
The Decision to Prosecute
Prosecutors have been given wide latitude to decide whether or not a case should be prosecuted. Nevertheless, prosecuting attorneys are generally bound by the guidelines specified in the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCS).
The RPCS provides specific rules that govern the actions of prosecuting attorneys. In particular, RPC 3.8 instructs prosecutors to avoid prosecuting any charge unless it is probable that the crime was committed.
Probable cause represents a very low standard of proof that a crime was actually committed. It is lower than a preponderance of evidence standard. The preponderance of evidence standard is sometimes referred to as the 50.1 percent rule. The decision whether to prosecute a domestic violence case is ultimately dependent upon a fair assessment of the available evidence.
Standards of Evidence
The standards of evidence that prosecutors follow when they decide whether to prosecute a domestic violence case may vary among jurisdictions. In fact, many counties and cities have adopted higher standards as part of their ongoing effort to discourage criminal activity. Every prosecutor must ultimately rely on the evidence provided by police reports, statements and criminal background checks to guide the decision-making process.
Domestic Violence Victims
Prosecutors often ignore the wishes of domestic violence victims. Society has recognized the reprehensible nature of domestic violence crimes. Moreover, it is often the case that pressure applied by perpetrators and the resulting fear that overwhelms a victim may have undue influence in the decision whether to press charges or not. In some jurisdictions, a victim has no authority or standing regarding the prosecution of a domestic violence case.
If you are the victim of domestic violence, it is important to realize that justice is in the hands of the prosecuting attorney of the jurisdiction where you reside. If you have been charged with domestic violence, you will require the representation of an experienced criminal law attorney. Domestic violence is a serious criminal charge and could result in severe penalties.
This article was provided by The Law Offices of Billy Skinner. Billy is a criminal defense attorney who knows how stressful it is facing criminal charges. His team of legal professionals carefully guides their clients through criminal proceedings.