If you have been involved in potentially criminal activity that engages a victim, you may be under the impression that — should the victim choose not to press charges — you can avoid the prospect of criminal prosecution altogether. This is a common misconception, however. The reality is a fair bit more nuanced.
Let’s start with the basics.
In civil litigation, the victim is the only party entitled to bring a claim against the defendant responsible for their losses. As such, if the victim chooses not to pursue their claims against the defendant in a civil action, the defendant will be able to successfully avoid having to deal with the various headaches of litigation.
In the criminal law context, however, the victim is not the prosecuting party — the State is. It is entirely up to the prosecutor to press charges and litigate against the defendant (the perpetrator). If the victim makes it known to the State that they do not wish to press charges against the perpetrator, then the State may take the concerns and desires of the victim into consideration, but they are not legally bound to the victim’s decision.
There are many legitimate reasons as to why a victim may not want to press charges against a criminal defendant, including but not limited to the avoidance of a potentially lengthy and draining trial, the financial cost of having to take time off from work to testify in the case at-issue, and more.
Fundamentally, then, if a victim chooses not to press charges, you — as a potential criminal defendant — are not necessarily protected from criminal prosecution by the State. That isn’t to say that the victim’s choice not to press charges is toothless, however.
Effect of the Victim Not Pressing Charges
If the victim files a waiver of prosecution, then this can still have an effect on the case, even if the States decides to move forward with prosecuting the offender. When the victim files a waiver of prosecution, they are not only asserting that they do not wish to press charges, but may also be asserting that the official reports on the incident (by law enforcement) are not accurate. This can seriously undermine the prosecution’s case. If the victim continues to be uncooperative, prosecutors can compel the victim to testify at trial.
As a general matter, the fact that the victim is not interested in pressing charges against the defendant and obtaining “justice” can have a substantial effect on the jury’s perception of the defendant. The jury may be more inclined to view the offense as less severe due to the victim’s relative detachment.
If you believe that you have been involved in activity that could potentially expose you to criminal liability, it’s important that you speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you navigate the intricacies and difficulties of the defense process. Call (941) 900-3100 today to schedule a free consultation with experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys at the Fowler Law Group.