Domestic violence is one of the trickiest topics in the world of criminal justice. With most crimes, police officers and district attorneys take heavily into account the wishes of victims. While they are not bound to follow what a crime victim wants, most police officers and prosecutors will only pursue charges if a victim wants them to. The state is technically the entity that presses the charges against a would-be criminal, but the victim is the one who encourages that action. With domestic violence, though, things are different. Because domestic violence victims are often pressured into dropping charges, states have in place protections that allow them to proceed with charges even if the victim wants to drop them.
Why domestic violence is different
Domestic violence by its very nature presents a different set of constraints. In many cases, the person pressing charges will either be married to the defendant or will be in a relationship with that person. In most criminal situations, the victim and assailant will be unrelated. Even if they know each other, their interests will hardly be aligned. With domestic violence, though, the interests of the victim and the assailant are often aligned. If a woman is being supported by her abuser, for instance, then she has an interest in dropping the charges because her husband may lose his job if she goes forward. This provides the assailant with considerable leverage he can use to push the victim to drop the charges.
State systems for pursuing domestic violence charges
Given these differences, states have their own systems for ensuring that prosecutions go forward. There have been many examples of ways that states have used extreme measures to ensure that victims have testified against their accusers. For instance, in Houston, the district attorney once jailed a victim of rape and domestic violence when that woman indicated that she no longer wanted to testify. While this is unusual, it is not unusual for states to still pursue charges even when the victim decides she does not want to follow through. This is done to take away the incentive of defendants to put pressure on victims.
Can a victim push for dropped charges?
With all of this being said, victims still have some power. Prosecutors will ultimately need some participation from these victims in order to secure a proper conviction. A victim who is intent on dropping the charges must often push hard for this outcome. Making it clear that there will be no cooperation is a good place to begin. Beyond that, if victims of domestic violence can come up with a good reason why the charges should not go forward, this will help convince prosecutors to follow suit.