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Domestic violence: Can you drop charges?

In domestic violence cases, people often call the law in the heat of the moment. Sometimes, it is even a third party that calls the law. Depending on the incident, if someone has been assaulted, the officers will usually ask the victim if they want to press charges. Many times in anger, or for their own safety at the moment, they will say "yes." Sometimes, charges are also pressed by an officer if the perpetrator is being uncooperative or hostile.

But what happens when the incident is over and everyone has calmed down? Some alleged victims often decide they want to drop charges the next day when their anger has subsided, and they see things in a different light. Can they drop the charges?

Dropping the charges will probably depend on if it is a civil case or a criminal case. What is the difference?

In most circumstances, a civil case does not involve a violation of a criminal law. If you bring a case against an alleged abuser, such as requesting an injunction or protection, this would be under civil law. In cases that are under civil law, the person who filed the charges can also drop the charges.

If a criminal law has supposedly been violated, such as assault, murder, robbery or even harassment, the case then becomes a criminal case. Criminal cases are in the hands of the prosecutor, and only the prosecutor can drop the charges. You may request that the prosecutor drop the charges, but it is up to them to make the decision whether to drop them or prosecute. If the prosecution decides to prosecute, they also have the right to subpoena you as a witness at the trial.

Domestic violence cases should be handled with care. Things spoken in anger and in the heat of the moment can have severe consequences if a prosecutor picks up the case. The potential defendant will need a good defense attorney if he or she needs to disprove false allegations or explain a situation that looks far worse than it was. While violence is never the answer, there are often two sides to the story.

Source:, "Overview of Civil vs. Criminal Law," accessed July 03, 2015

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