Can a Prosecutor Drop All Charges Before Trial?
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.
Opinions of Police
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.
Opinions of Alleged Victim
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.
Considerations of Justice
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.
An assault charge is a serious predicament. Conviction of assault in the United States can result in harsh penalties including but not limited to financial penalties, jail time and probation. The laws regarding assault vary from state to state but the general definition of assault across the United States is any act that seeks to cause bodily or mental harm to another person without their consent. Assault does not always need to involve physical contact; verbal threats or threatening gestures or actions can also be legally considered as assault.
Types of Assault Charges
Assault charges can vary depending on the type and severity of the violation the victim claims to suffer.
• Simple Assault – Any injuries sustained from the assault are minor and no weapon was used to commit it
• Verbal Assault – Oral and non-physical in nature, resulting in fear, distress or emotional anguish
• Sexual Assault – Sodomy, molestation, rape or any other kind of sexual offence or act committed without the victims consent
• Aggravated Assault – Use of force against another individual as well as use of a weapon
• Physical Assault – A serious physical attack on someone resulting in grievous bodily harm
• Felonious Assault – Considered to be the most serious of all assault charges, it can include the use of a weapon, an assault that results in serious bodily harm and exercising force over another person against their will
Know Your Rights
Once you have been accused of assault, it is imperative that you understand how dire your situation is and act accordingly. Your best course of action would be to understand your legal rights in the given situation and act in a way that will maximize the benefit that you can get from those rights.
• You have the right to secure the services of a qualified and professional attorney you can afford. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to be defended by a lawyer paid for by the state.
• You have the right to remain silent when questioned by the police. It is always better to exercise this right if your lawyer is not present. If you are arrested by the police right after the assault charge has been placed and you are taken to the police station, it is always better to stay quiet until your attorney arrives.
Anything you say to the police can be misconstrued to improve the chances of your conviction. An experienced lawyer will know this and will know what kind of language to use when talking to the police to minimize the risk of this happening.
• You have a right to present your own witnesses. This is an important right and can steer the outcome of the accusation in your favor. It is best for you to start compiling a list of potential witnesses as soon as you know you have been charged with assault.
• If you have been accused of sexual assault, you have the right to scientific testing which can disprove the allegations made against you.
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Domestic violence is a crime that ruins lives and tears families apart all over the world every day. Therefore, it’s natural and expected that there would be laws that criminalize domestic violence, but as much as we want to trust our legal system, many people all over the United States are falsely accused of domestic crimes every day. People are falsely accused of all kinds of different crimes but a false accusation of domestic violence can ruin a person’s life.
The unfair aspect of a false domestic violence charge is that it doesn’t matter if the claims are eventually proven to be false. The stigma still follows the accused and temporary orders can still show up on criminal background checks and hinder getting a job or renting a new residence. Apart from that, your rights and dignity are completely brushed aside.
Once the charge has been made, you can be arrested in your own home in front of your partner and children and in full view of your neighbors. You can be taken to the police station and your DNA taken on file. This is everything that happens before you are convicted. The worst case scenario is prison.
What to do if you are arrested for Domestic Violence Charges?
If you are falsely accused of domestic violence, you need to be aware of your rights. Earlier in the article we mentioned how many of your rights can be legally stripped from you but you do not lose your right to legal representation.
You are entitled to legal advice at the police station; to waive this right is not a wise decision. If you talk to the police without your lawyer, anything you say can and will be misconstrued by the police to increase the likelihood of your conviction. A lawyer will be aware of this and will know through experience and training how to communicate with the police in a way that will be most beneficial to your case.
It will work in your favor to be truthful and open with your attorney. A lack of cooperation with your lawyer means that their ability to help you will be hindered by your own decisions and actions.
If you manage to get bail, the police will set a date for you to return to the police station. If this happens, it is crucial that you return to the police station on the set date otherwise you can be charged with a “failure to surrender” offense and a warrant can be issued for your arrest.
If you are innocent of any crime, stick to the truth till the end. Always portray a calm and collected demeanor because losing your temper will look bad on your case. An angry male is the stereotypical domestic abuser and you must distance yourself from this image as much as possible.
The Ramifications for your Accuser
If a partner or ex-partner has accused you of domestic violence while knowing that you are innocent, he or she has already committed a crime by the time the police are involved. This can result in them receiving a prison sentence of six months. If they falsify evidence presented to the concerned authorities, then they are guilty of perverting the course of justice.
If the case gets to court and the accuser is still lying at this stage, then they are committing perjury. These are all grave crimes and can end up in a very long accumulated sentence.
Drinking and driving is a crime throughout the United States. Each State has different laws that define how much alcohol consumption deprives a person of his or her driving privileges and how harshly the crime is punished in terms of prison time and financial penalties; some States are much stricter than others.
Currently, Utah is set to become the State with the nation’s strictest drunk driving laws after passing of a law that lowers the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from 0.08 to 0.05, making it the lowest legal alcohol threshold in the country. After the law goes into effect, an average 160 pound man would be considered too drunk to drive after having two drinks over a one hour period.
The law has been heavily criticized because of the harsh penalties it would place on people for driving after consuming what critics argue are amounts of liquor which wouldn’t have a very dangerously inebriating effect on someone’s driving competency. A first DUI conviction in the State of Utah can result in a myriad of penalties which can range from expensive financial penalties to jail time as well as the potential installation of an expensive Interlock Ignition Device (IID) or the imposition of Alcohol Restricted Driving privileges (ARD) which mean that the person convicted of DUI can’t drive with any amount of alcohol in his or her system.
Critics have argued that the new law can seriously damage Utah’s tourism industry as tourists are more likely to visit places where drinking such small amounts of alcohol will be less of a hassle. Utah is home to fourteen ski resorts, five national parks, seven national monuments and forty three state parks. These locations make up Utah’s diverse travel and tourism industry and are very dependent on travelers and tourists from other States. In 2016, travelers spent $8.17 billion in Utah, which translated into $1.15 billion in state and local tax revenues. There are fears that cutting the legal BAC limit down to 0.05 will cut a significant chunk out of these numbers and affect Utah’s financial prosperity as a State.
Critics also press that the law will likely increase the number of DUI convictions and will have no effect on the number of inebriated people operating motor vehicles. They argue that arresting people for driving after moderate alcohol use, which will likely not affect their competence at driving, does not mean that those who habitually drive after heavier alcohol use will change their habits.
Proponents of the law such as Senator Lyle Hillyard reply that the state needs to send a strong message against drinking and driving, and that having a stricter BAC policy will make people in general less likely to drive after drinking, because they know they are more likely to fail a breathalyzer test.
Advocates who are in favor of having 0.05 as the legal BAC limit also argue that all tourists don’t come to Utah just to drink. They also cite European BAC laws, and mention most European countries including international tourist hotspots like Germany, Italy, Greece and France.
June 5th, 2017 saw the Supreme Court of the United States pass a ruling in Honeycutt v. United States (No.16-142), declaring that a criminal defendant can only be held accountable for crime proceeds that he directly acquired and benefited from, and cannot be made jointly liable for proceeds acquired by a co-conspirator.
The decision is a change from decades of nearly uniform policy in drug cases which penalized drug offenders for the collective profit earned by a group regardless of how much of the profits were kept by each member of the group.
The case involved two brothers, Terry Honeycutt and Tony Honeycutt. Tony was the owner of a hardware store of which his brother Terry was the manager. The two brothers were found guilty of knowingly selling $400,000 worth of an iodine based water purification product known as Polar Pure to methamphetamine manufacturers, fully aware that the product would be used to illegally manufacture a controlled substance.
The state sought forfeiture payments from each brother in ratio to the stores profits from selling Polar Pure to methamphetamine manufacturers, which amounted to $269, 751.98. Tony plead guilty and agreed to pay $200,000 while Terry went to Trial, arguing that as he did not own the store, he did not benefit from any of the stores profits from selling Polar Pure.
Eventually, even though the district court declined to order Terry Honeycutt to forfeit any of the stores profits on the ground that he made no financial gain from them, The Sixth Circuit reversed the district courts forfeiture ruling on the grounds that Terry Honeycutt was a part of the drug conspiracy and was instrumental in the conspiracy being able to make a profit regardless of whether he received any portion of those profits.
The Courts Decision
The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Sixth Circuit decision. The court held that the § 853(a)’s “provisions, by their terms, limit forfeiture … to tainted property; that is, property flowing from (§ 853(a)(1)), or used in (§ 853(a)(2)), the crime itself.” Slip op. 5 (emphasis added). If joint and several liability were permitted, co-conspirators who obtained less than the full profits of the conspiracy might be required to forfeit untainted assets: property wholly unconnected with the crime.
Essentially, the law in question in this trial pertains to property acquired as a result of the crime and the courts definition of “acquire” involving a defendant taking something for himself.
Implications for Future Cases
The Honeycutt trial has implications that will go far beyond narcotics cases. Prior to this case, courts ordered criminal defendants to forfeit the value of assets obtained from an entire criminal plan regardless of how much of the profits each criminal kept. This will no longer be the case. The Government prosecutors routinely sought forfeiture payments from parties which were wealthy enough to pay them like corporate defendants or particularly rich defendants. In the aftermath of the Honeycutt case, it seems like this will no longer be the case.
Rex Dwyer, Esq
. has decades of experience and he focuses on all areas of family law issues and civil litigation.