Prosecutors have control over the criminal cases to which they are assigned. They often engage in plea bargaining that results in the dismissal of some charges in exchange for a conviction on other charges.
Prosecutors also have the authority to drop all charges before trial, even in the absence of a plea bargain. That isn’t something they often do, and it usually isn’t something they are happy to do. In some cases, however, a criminal defense lawyer can persuade a prosecutor to drop all charges before trial.
Prosecutors are particularly reluctant to drop charges if that decision is opposed by the arresting officer. Prosecutors are most likely to drop charges when the arresting officer doesn’t care.
Particularly in domestic violence cases, some officers feel that they are required to make an arrest even if they don’t think an arrest serves any real purpose. When the arresting officer agrees with the prosecutor that the situation might be better addressed in a different way (such as the defendant’s agreement to obtain anger management counseling), the prosecutor might drop the charges.
Prosecutors are required to consult with the alleged victim before dropping the charges. Prosecutors are not required to follow the victim’s wishes, but most prosecutors will give a victim’s opinion serious consideration.
When the alleged victim doesn’t want the case to be prosecuted, the prosecutor might be worried that the victim has been threatened or pressured to ask for charges to be dropped. Prosecutors will rarely drop charges under those circumstances, and might instead charge the defendant with intimidating the victim.
On the other hand, if the alleged victim makes a persuasive argument that a prosecution will harm the relationship more than help it, the prosecutor might decide to drop the charges. When the alleged victim explains that the statement given to the police overstated the events that actually occurred, the prosecutor might also elect to drop the charge rather than bringing a case to trial that the prosecutor will probably lose.
Criminal convictions can have harsh consequences, including the loss of employment or the denial of security clearance. When a defendant’s criminal conduct was not particularly serious, the prosecutor might agree that it does not warrant a conviction.
Prosecutors are most likely to reach that conclusion when the defendant has taken responsibility for the crime. Making restitution to the crime victim, attending counseling to address the crime’s underlying cause, or moving away from the crime victim may help convince a prosecutor that the crime is unlikely to be repeated and that dropping the charge will not endanger society.
When prosecutors drop all charges without a trial, they often condition that agreement on the defendant’s participation in a deferred adjudication program. The defendant typically pleads guilty or no contest to an offense, so no trial takes place. The defendant is not convicted or sentenced, but is instead given the chance to complete the program.
The defendant remains in the community and is supervised as if the defendant is on probation. The defendant may be required to perform community service or to engage in programs that will encourage rehabilitation. When the program is completed successfully, all charges are dismissed. Criminal lawyers are often able to negotiate deferred prosecutions that result in charges being dismissed, particularly when the accused is a first offender or when extenuating circumstances are present.