I'm a victim in a criminal case. Can I drop the charges?
In a civil case, the parties are the plaintiff, the party who claims an injury, and the defendant, the party who is alleged to have caused the injury.
But in a criminal case, the parties are the person accused of the crime (the defendant) and the state, who is prosecuting it. The person who alleges he was harmed by the accused is not a party; rather, he is simply a witness in the state’s case.
In a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff can dismiss his case at any time and for any reason. In a criminal case, the victim has no power to dismiss the case. Only the state has that power.
So what happens when a victim wants to drop charges against a defendant in a criminal case?
(1) Most District Attorneys offices have a Victim Assistance Office or Coordinator. These people are employees of the DA’s office whose job it is to help walk victims through the legal proceeding. Among their duties are also to communicate with victims regarding their wishes in the case.
(2) If the defendant has hired an attorney, a victim can also contact that attorney directly regarding signing an affidavit of non-prosecution. Although, again, the prosecutor does not have to accept this affidavit, it is a sworn statement by the victim in the case that he does not want the case prosecuted.
(3) Some District Attorney’s offices have “drop slips” or forms that can be filled out in the district attorney’s office to notify the prosecutor that the victim does not want to see the defendant prosecuted.