Victim: Dropping the Charge

Consider this scenario.  We often get asked by some of our clients, "I am the victim in this case, I don't want to why can't I just drop the charges???"

For example, let's say that Jane called the cops on her husband.  She didn’t mean for him to go to jail, she just wanted him to calm down.  But it was a stressful situation, and this was the best way she could think of to get back at him, and/or to relieve the situation.  It felt great when doing so in the heat of the moment, and she felt a sense of relief knowing the police were on her side — having the cops as a weapon — was totally empowering.

Essentially her husband would be arrested, booked into jail, and they would have a criminal charge pending.  However, once this happens, it is very often the case people in Jane's position recant.  Aferall, enough is enough once you get into the system. He’s possibly even been locked up for a couple of weeks, perhaps even months, at this point.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  And it’s really hard for Jane, what with him being out of work this whole time, and not being around to help with the kids.  And he really didn’t do anything wrong… it’s just that, you know… she wasn’t thinking straight.  And now it’s time for her husband to come back she thinks.

That should be easy enough.  All she needs to do is drop the charges, right?  She’ll just go over to the District Attorney's Office and say she doesn’t want to pursue the case. 

We imagine that something like this is what’s going on in Jane's mind:

Unless you actually practice criminal law, you probably have no idea how common this scenario is.  People get arrested and put in jail literally all the time, not because they actually committed a crime, but because their significant other used calling the police as a weapon.

What people don’t seem to realize is that the police do not have any discretion.  When you say someone beat you, or threatened to kill you, or whatever, the police must make an arrest. They have no choice. Period. 

And it’s no good you coming back the next day and trying to undo your terrible mistake.  You’ve set in motion a machine that you are virtually powerless to stop. 

Our office sees these kinds of cases far too often.  Non-criminal domestic disputes become swallowed up by the machine, which chews people up and spits them out.

It’s not just women calling the cops on their men, of course.  It’s often neighbors calling cops on each other, or students making false allegations against a teacher, or any other kind of situation.  And once they’ve called the cops, there are no do-overs.

Sometimes, it’s a cultural thing.  There really are people out there whose first reaction is to call the cops to solve their problems for them.  They live in a world where literally everything is done for them by the government.  So their first instinct in any situation is to get government involved.  You literally get moms calling the cops on their own kids for not cleaning their room.  Which escalates, when the cops refuse to get involved, to ever more serious accusations until the cops do get involved.  And then the mom calls sobbing, wondering why her baby is in jail.  To which the only rational answer is "because you called the police and are the reason for putting him there."

But usually, it’s simply because the person who called the police (1) felt comparatively powerless in the relationship, (2) figured calling the police would be a big equalizer, (3) either didn’t understand what he or she was setting in motion, or didn’t think it through, and (4) over-reacted.

So, next time you’re thinking of calling the police on your significant other, analyze the situation in its entirety, and try actually thinking about the possible consequences first.  There is a solid chance that you will save yourself, and quite possibly one of your loved ones, a lot of grief.