Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Dropped in California?

In California, domestic violence is sadly one of the most common crimes in the state. It is legally defined as causing bodily injury on a spouse, cohabitant, or previous partner, according to the California Penal Code Section 273.5. Most charges in these cases are misdemeanor offenses, and anyone convicted will receive a minimum sentence of three years’ probation and a possible restraining order. However, the case will escalate to a felony offense if either there is a minor involved, the violent act resulted in severe bodily injury, or in cases of sexual assault. These crimes carry a minimum of four years in prison plus fines.

The defendant can hope to get these charges dropped to avoid punishment and the collateral consequences of domestic violence. In some cases, the victim may also regret taking legal action against their partner or spouse and choose to stop pressing charges. According to California domestic abuse law, once the events come to the state’s attention, the only person eligible to drop the charges is the prosecutor. 

Here, we will look at why someone may drop a domestic violence charge in California and how to do it.

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Reasons to Drop a Domestic Violence Charge May Be Dropped

The only person capable of dropping domestic violence charges in California is the state prosecutor working on the case. Prosecutors investigate criminal cases and allegations brought to their attention and represent the victim in court. They seek a course of action that provides justice for the victim and that has the best outcome for the state. As such, prosecutors will only drop the charges of a domestic violence offense if there is a lack of evidence or enough doubt cast on the victim’s allegations. Here are the five main reasons why this could happen.

1. Insufficient Evidence

A lack of evidence is the most common reason to drop a domestic violence case. It is the prosecutor’s role to present evidence supporting the victim’s allegations to the courts. By doing so, they are proving the defendant is indeed guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, where there is insufficient evidence to present to the courts, the prosecutor may decide not to pursue the charges.

2. Contradicting Statements

When reporting a domestic violence offense, victims generally make two statements. One will be an oral statement to the police officers who arrest the accused individual. The second is a written statement filed in the police report. When revising the evidence, the prosecutor will review both of these statements. Any contradiction between the two could cause the prosecutors to doubt the truthfulness of the victim’s allegations, and they may drop the case. Similarly, when the statements given contradict the victim’s physical injuries, the prosecution can stop pursuing the charges.

3. No Visible Injuries

For the defendant to be convicted of a domestic violence offense in California, there is no requirement for visible signs of physical injury on the victim; the abuse may have occurred without there being any visible proof of physical harm. These cases are harder to prove and the prosecution will have to find alternate evidence that proves there was harm caused to the victim. However, where there are no visible injuries, the prosecutor may drop the charges when other evidence cannot be found.

4. No Independent Witnesses

The majority of domestic violence occurs when the couple involved is home alone. As such, there are rarely any independent witnesses that can side with the victim in court. Where visible injuries are apparent or the scene of the crime makes it obvious a violent act occurred, this may not matter. However, in many cases, particularly those in which the victim and the defendant have conflicting accounts of the event, the lack of independent witnesses can make the case hard to prove. As such, the prosecutor may drop all charges.

How to Drop Domestic Violence Charges in California

As it is solely the prosecutor’s decision whether to drop charges, anyone wishing to have the charges dismissed needs to convince the prosecutor that doing so would be the best course of action for all parties involved. If it is the defendant facing domestic violence charges that is looking to have the charges against them dropped, they can do so by one of the following methods:

  1. Gaining the Prosecutor’s Support: The defendant may be able to get the charges dropped if the prosecutor believes this is the right thing to do. They must convince the prosecutor that doing so will be beneficial for all parties involved and the state of California.
  2. Reading the Police Report: The police report holds vital evidence that makes up the grounds for the domestic violence case. Requesting the police report can help the defendant form a strong argument against the charges held to present to the prosecution. When strong enough, the prosecutor will drop all charges.
  3. Writing a Detailed Account of the Incident: Sometimes the police report will detail factually incorrect information or untrue allegations. Writing a proven untruthful or incorrect account of the incidents and handing this to the prosecutors can convince them to drop the charges against the defendant.
  4. Appointing an Attorney: While the accused can convince the prosecutor to drop all charges alone, appointing an experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in domestic violence helps. They can directly persuade the prosecutor that charging the victim would be detrimental. Moreover, for cases that do make it to court, an attorney knows how to get a domestic violence case dismissed in California by using strong defense strategies. This could see the defendant’s sentencing reduced, such as the judge issuing a protective order.
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On the other hand, it is sometimes the victim who wishes to retract their allegations against the defendant and no longer press charges. But can victims drop domestic violence charges in California? Although it is difficult, it is possible to do so if the victim signs an affidavit of non-prosecution. This is a legal statement by the alleged victim that states that they:

  • Do not wish to testify against the defendant;
  • Do not want the accused to be sentenced;
  • Wish for the prosecution to dismiss all charges;
  • Sign the affidavit voluntarily and have not received criminal threats or been coerced in making the decision.

The case is not automatically dropped after submitting an affidavit of non-prosecution in California. However, the prosecutor will take this into account when deciding on the best course of action for all parties. It may make it difficult for the prosecutor to win the case if the victim decides not to testify, and the prosecutors may decide to drop all charges against the defendant.

Conclusions

Dropping domestic violence charges in California is notoriously difficult. Once law enforcement knows of the events and has arrested the accused, neither the victim nor the defendant has a say on whether to drop the charges. This is solely left to the judgment of the prosecution. However, both parties can try to persuade the state to drop all charges. The victim can do this by submitting an affidavit of non-prosecution. On the other hand, the defendant’s best chances of having the case dismissed rely on gaining the prosecutor’s support and casting doubt on the evidence.

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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