As defense lawyers, one of the most common questions we encounter revolves around domestic assault charges. Domestic Assault cases constitute a significant portion of the cases we handle, and it’s essential to understand that these cases are rarely straightforward.
In our jurisdiction, prosecuting attorneys’ offices often maintain a strict “no-drop” policy when it comes to domestic assault charges. This means that they are unlikely to voluntarily dismiss these charges. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have rights or options for a strong defense.
In this blog, we explain the difference between dropping and dismissing charges, whether the victim can request charges to be dropped, domestic violence laws in Missouri, and the various avenues available to get domestic assault charges dismissed. Understanding these nuances can be invaluable when you’re facing such a challenging legal situation.
So, let’s explore your options and shed light on the steps you can take to navigate domestic assault charges effectively.
Dropping vs. Dismissing Criminal Charges
Dropping criminal charges typically refers to the decision made by the prosecution to no longer pursue the case, often due to insufficient evidence.
On the other hand, dismissing charges is a legal action taken by a judge, usually at the request of the defense, when there are legal issues, errors, or violations of the defendant’s rights that make the case untenable.
While charges can be dropped or dismissed based on the merits of the case, the difference lies in who is taking the action.
Can The Alleged Victim Drop Assault Charges?
No, in the eyes of the law, the prosecuting attorney’s office represents the state as the plaintiff (or, if it is a municipal case, a city or county), while the victim is considered a witness to the case.
Therefore, it’s not within the victim’s power to drop the charges, as the case belongs to the government, and it is the government that ultimately decides whether to pursue prosecution.
Even if a victim were to approach the prosecutor directly and request the charges be dropped, the answer would almost certainly be “no.” So, as a rule, charges in domestic assault cases cannot be dismissed at the discretion of the victim.
However, this doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The legal system still ensures that the defendant has rights. One of these rights is the right to insist that the government prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that even though charges may not be dropped, it’s still incumbent upon the prosecution to provide compelling evidence and arguments to secure a conviction.
When the Case Falls Apart: How Charges Get Dismissed
While, in most cases, the prosecution will not drop charges, they could still be dismissed. However, this type of dismissal comes from the court, not the prosecutor. In fact, these dismissals often occur despite the prosecutor’s objections.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, there may be a few ways to get an assault case dismissed.
Lack of Witnesses
Often, in cases involving domestic assault charges, there are just two key witnesses: the alleged victim and the defendant. When the case proceeds to trial, prosecutors rely on these witnesses to make their case.
The Fifth Amendment affords defendants a right against self-incrimination; therefore, in a criminal case, they can not be compelled to testify. In a domestic assault case, this may leave the alleged victim as the prosecutor’s only witness.
However, there are instances when the alleged victim fails to respond to subpoenas or doesn’t show up in court as required.
As the defendant’s attorney, we seize this opportunity. We promptly move to dismiss the case for “failure to prosecute.” In this scenario, we inform the court that we were fully prepared to proceed with the trial, but the state’s witness, the alleged victim, failed to cooperate. In a felony case, such a dismissal may also occur at a preliminary hearing, which is a hearing at which the court must determine whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the offense.
Another aspect to consider is spousal privilege. In Missouri, this legal principle prohibits the court from compelling a spouse to testify against the other.
This means that if the alleged victim is legally married to the defendant and he or she is choosing not to testify, the court can not force them to, therefore weakening the case and potentially leading to a dismissal.
But this decision is solely up to the alleged victim, not the defendant, their attorney, the court, or any other party involved. The alleged must willfully assert his or her right not to testify, based on the spousal testimonial privilege.
During the trial, the prosecutor must present their witnesses, who are subject to cross-examination by the defendant’s DV attorney. Effective cross-examination can expose inconsistencies or weaknesses in witness testimony, casting doubt on the prosecution’s case.
In some cases, the prosecution’s witnesses may even be in favor of the defendant, potentially resulting in a case dismissal or a verdict of “not guilty.”
Failure to Meet Burden of Proof
Ultimately, the prosecution carries the burden of proof in a criminal case. Whether before a judge in a preliminary hearing or in front of a jury at trial, the government must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to meet this burden, the case can crumble, leading to a verdict of not guilty or even a case dismissal.
Why Choose Rose Legal Services for Your Defense
At Rose Legal Services, we are passionate about helping good people get a second chance. With over two decades of experience, we’ve assisted thousands of individuals facing criminal charges, arrests, or investigations.
Domestic Assault is one of our most common types of cases, so all of our attorneys are very experienced and well-trained in this type of case. We believe that a criminal defense practice is highly specialized, requiring full-time focus and attention. Therefore, we are one of the very few law firms in Missouri that dedicate our practice exclusively to criminal defense.
Don’t face domestic assault charges alone. Contact us today for a consultation.