Domestic violence charges are serious. They can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life. If you're convicted, you could be incarcerated, fined, sentenced to a batterer's intervention program, and lose your gun rights, among other sanctions. You'll even face collateral consequences, such as a ruined reputation and an inability to obtain gainful employment.
But what if, after everyone cools down, the alleged victim decides that they don't want to pursue the case. Could the charges be dropped, and therefore could you avoid the harsh sanctions associated with the accusation and/or conviction? The answer is both "no" and "yes." But what happens to your case has little to do with the alleged victim's wishes and more to do with the prosecutor's decisions.
Alleged Victims Cannot Drop Domestic Violence Charges
There is a common misconception that if a domestic violence victim chooses not to press charges, the case will be dropped. This is not true. Regardless of the victim's desires, the State can still prosecute your case. The victim, while they can make their wishes known, has no official authority to drop charges.
If you try to talk to the family or household member you allegedly harmed to convince them to drop the charges, your attempts will have no bearing on your case. In fact, such actions could have further criminal consequences. You could be charged with tampering with or harassing a victim (Florida Statute § 914.22). Thus, if you've been accused of domestic violence, it's best to refrain from communicating with the alleged victim.
Additionally, you may be under a court order not to contact the victim. If you try to reason with them about the situation, you may also be charged for violating a no contact order.
The Prosecutor Represents the State
The only way your domestic violence charges can be dropped is if the prosecutor decides not to pursue your case. This decision isn't made lightly, and their choice is unlikely to be influenced by the alleged victim's wishes.
The reason domestic violence charges can be dropped only by the prosecutor and not the victim has to do with how criminal cases begin and proceed. Although a domestic violence offense happens between family and/or household members, they aren't private matters. The conduct involved in them is often a violation of one or more state laws, such as those concerning assault or battery.
If you've been accused of domestic violence, you've really been charged with breaking the law, which is a State matter. Thus, a prosecutor, working on behalf of the State, will handle your case.
Essentially, the State is taking legal action against you for engaging in a prohibited act. It's not the victim who is pursuing the case because you allegedly harmed or threatened to harm them. Therefore, any decisions made concerning the matter are up to the State and not the victim.
Florida Statute 741.2901 provides that state attorneys must have a "pro-prosecution policy" in place for domestic violence matters. The statute further says that whether or not to move forward is at the prosecutor's discretion "over the objection of the victim." Thus, regardless of how the alleged victim later feels or what they tell the prosecutor, it's not their wishes alone that will affect the case.
Why the Prosecutor Might Drop Domestic Violence Charges
The only time the prosecutor might decide to drop domestic violence charges is if there is insufficient evidence. However, with a "no-drop" policy in place, it's unlikely that the State won't pursue the case.
If you've been charged with domestic violence, the most effective way to seek a favorable outcome is to work with a criminal defense attorney from the start. They can advise you on how to proceed and let you know what your options are.