Criminal charges can be dropped for any number of reasons. Below we discuss who can drop charges and the reasons behind why charges can be dropped, including DNA evidence and if evidence was obtained without a warrant.

Reasons for Dropping Charges

Dropping charges against a defendant can happen for any number of reasons. Before we jump into those reasons, let’s discuss who can and cannot drop charges.

A victim can file a complaint and agree to testify against the accused, but it’s important to realize that it’s the government – generally the office of the district attorney, attorney general, or other local authority where the crime occurred-that actually brings charges against the accused.

Because of this, a victim cannot actually drop charges. Instead, a victim is able to decide to no longer participate in a case and request that charges be dropped. But just because a victim decides this, that does not mean that a prosecutor will drop the charges.

Why Victims Drop Criminal Charges

Victims may decide to request to have the charges dropped for the following reasons:

  • The victim is afraid of the accused.
  • The victim loves the person accused and want to maintain a relationship with him or her. This is common in domestic violence cases.
  • The victim decides he or she identified the wrong person.

Why Prosecutors Drop Criminal Charges

Prosecutors often drop charges for the following:

1. The case was built around a victim, but there is not much evidence. In this case, if the victim decides they no longer want to participate in the case, then the prosecutor will not have much else to build a case.

2. Credible witnesses come forward that dispute the current witnesses’ stories.

3. The defense has enough evidence to sway a jury in their favor, and thus the prosecution knows they cannot win the case they are bringing

4. Physical evidence that the prosecution team has against the accused is weak.

5. Newly obtained evidence, such as DNA evidence exonerates the accused. We will discuss this in depth below.

What is DNA?

Unique to an individual, except in very limited situations, DNA is unchanging throughout one’s life. DNA is a reliable identifier, and, most conveniently for forensic purposes, it is found in all the body’s cells. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is an essential molecule that is found in every part of our bodies. DNA testing on biological samples such as skin, saliva, semen, blood or hair is increasingly used to help convict or exonerate people suspected of crimes and with great accuracy. As crucial courtroom evidence, it must be properly collected, preserved and kept from contamination. When the whole procedure is expertly undertaken and correctly completed, DNA testing has become the modern, almost foolproof version of fingerprinting.

For suspects undergoing investigation for a crime and those already incarcerated, DNA testing can almost feel like the flip of a coin. For a suspect, if the coin comes up heads and results in a perfect DNA match to a sample found on the victim’s clothing, he or she is on their way to a jail cell. For those already behind the bars of a prison cell, when tails indicates a crime scene DNA mismatch, it could mean the end of years of unwarranted incarceration. But, as we all know too well, no one can be 100% certain of a coin toss.

DNA, Exoneration, and Compensation

In the U.S., as of September 2011, 273 people including 17 death row inmates have been exonerated by use of DNA tests. This statistic might seem insignificant to a casual observer, but to those exonerated, it’s like having life’s heaviest millstone lifted from your shoulders, not to mention having the doors to a new life opened. The average age of those exonerated at the time of their wrongful conviction is about 26 years of age and the average length of time served is 14 years. These years represent the most productive, most active time of a young adult’s life. It’s a time when careers are begun, families started, and the pathway for the future is formulated.

In view of the prevailing conservative nature of many state governments, it’s somewhat surprising that many these governments have recognized the damage done to wrongly imprisoned individuals and have begun to offer financial compensation. Still, twenty-three states don’t offer any financial compensation for the wrongfully incarcerated. In the 27 states that do, the reparations vary widely.

“It’s a real patchwork,” New York-based Innocence Project policy advocate Rebecca Brown said.

“States had been addressing the cases piecemeal with private bills because maybe only one or two people were coming out every few years. But as time goes on, we’re seeing that this is really a systemic problem and there is a great deal of wrongful convictions. A more comprehensive framework needs to get worked out.”

In California, there is a maximum of $100 per day of wrongful incarceration. The wrongfully convicted person must show he did not “contribute to the bringing about of his arrest or conviction for the crime with which he was charged.” This unfortunate provision may prevent people who falsely confessed or pled guilty from receiving compensation, but for those whose advocates can provide DNA evidence, it offers at least some compensation for their lost years.

Another Reason the Prosecution Might Drop a Case

Another important reason the prosecution might drop a case is something that is super important for you to know: if the evidence was obtained without a valid warrant and has thus been ruled as inadmissible. Knowing your rights, and informing your criminal defense attorney that they were violated, is the best way to use this as a defense in your case.

Knowing Your Rights When Being Arrested by a Police Officer

When you are arrested by a police officer, there is a specific set of events that occur. A police officer must follow legal procedures from arrest to actual placement of a suspect in jail. It’s important to be aware of what these procedures are, as if any of these are violated, a criminal defense attorney may be able to build a strong defense off of those violations.

An “arrest” is when a police officer takes a suspect into custody.

Miranda Rights

If you’ve ever watched a law-themed TV show you might be familiar with the Miranda Rights. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, that individuals that have been arrested because they are believed to have committed a crime are allowed certain rights that must be explained to them prior to any police questioning. “Miranda Rights” are means to protect a suspect from self-incriminating themselves and is protected under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Those “Miranda Rights” are as follows:

  • You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
  • Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.

If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

To Note: Miranda rights only need to be ready when an individual has been taken into police custody and is under interrogation.

Important to Know

There are a number of tactics that can be employed by police officers to obtain confessions from individuals accused of committing crimes. These tactics are often meant to trip an individual up, so if you are wanted for questioning, you should know what to expect and how to protect your legal rights.

If you are wanted for an interview about a crime, you need to remember these two key elements:

Interrogations are meant to produce confessions

1. The best way to protect yourself – even if you know you are innocent – is to not make a statement without first talking to a criminal defense attorney. Remember that the best way avoid saying something that might be incriminating is to not say it at all.

2. If an officer wants to question you, tell them that you will not make a statement without an attorney being present. You might need to repeat this, but it’s best if you stay steadfast with your need for an attorney, regardless of whatever tactics they might use to get you to talk.

Additionally, it has been shown that police tactics can often encourage someone to confess to a crime they did not commit. Often times accused suspects confess to a crime, and are then exonerated by DNA evidence that proves they were not guilty. Research has been done over the years on why this happen, and proves that often scared juveniles and people with diminished mental capacity are at greater risk for providing false confessions. Often times these individuals are scared and lured by the tactics in hopes that they can just get to the end of the interrogation and then go home. As a result, many interrogations are now recorded on audio and video.

Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney

As you can see, being interrogated by a police officer, even if it’s an informal situation can be a potentially incriminating experience. An experience criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on the best defense as well as protect you during an interrogation. That is why it is key to not say anything until you have received legal guidance.
Any criminal charge could result in prison time, other serious penalties, and a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. The good news is that there is a defense to every charge or accusation. Contact our office in Los Angeles at 562-287-5333, at 562-287-5333 or by e-mail to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.
Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman