Does a Victim of a Crime have to “Press Charges” for someone to be arrested or prosecuted in court?

July 28, 2016

Pressing charges” merely means someone is desirous for prosecution. Moreover, it informs law enforcement and the prosecuting agency that a victim will be cooperative with the prosecution in their effort to convict the defendant. But contrary to popular belief, the prosecutor makes the decision to file charges against a defendant, regardless of the victim’s desire.

However, if a crime victim expresses that they do not wish for prosecution, it may be a factor the prosecutor will consider prior to formal filing. Moreover, if the prosecutor believes the victim will be uncooperative and perhaps refuse to comply with a subpoena or testify in court, they may elect to reject the case or dismiss the accusation(s) against the defendant.

Crime victims can be in a relationship, a family member, friend, or complete stranger to the defendant. Generally family members or those close to the defendant never wish for prosecution and are often labeled as hostile victims. Complete strangers who refuse to cooperate with the prosecution are often afraid namely because of a defendant’s gang ties or potential retaliation from the defendant.

If a crime victim fails to come to court and testify at trial, the case may not automatically be dismissed. Although more burdensome on the prosecution, the prosecutor has received training, is experienced, and has extensive knowledge on how to conduct a jury trial without the presence or testimony of the crime victim. This is a common scenario is criminal trials, mostly in domestic violence cases.

Crime victims may also have right not to testify in trial. California Code of Civil Procedure 1219(b) provides that a victim of domestic violence and some sex offenses cannot be jailed if they elect not to testify. The court may still impose sanctions – e.g., fine the witness, but the court is prohibited from incarcerating the victim based on their refusal to testify.

The law grants rights to victims of crime, including rights to seek compensation for economic losses as a result of the defendant’s crime(s). If you’re a crime victim and you’re seeking legal representation, contact a Criminal Defense Attorney at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers for a free consultation concerning your rights.

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