It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot on TV and in movies: “the charges were dropped.” But what exactly does that mean? And what does that mean for you if you have been accused of committing a crime?
Criminal Cases and Dropping Charges
The most important thing that needs to be defined when talking about “dropping charges,” is who exactly is able to top charges. Surprisingly, it is not the victim - it is the government and typically the office of the district attorney, attorney general, or other local authority where the crime occurred-that actually brings the charges.
While a victim is able to file a complaint against the accused, they can also choose to no longer participate in the case, and thus request that the charges be dropped. Even if a victim requests that charges be dropped, it will be up to the prosecutor to decide if the government will drop the charges against the accused.
Why Drop Charges?
Not all criminal charges lead to trial. Sometimes a defendant will enter a plea bargain for reduced sentences or the prosecutor will decide to drop charges. This can happen for any number of reasons.
Why a Victim Might Want to Drop Charges
When a victim decides they no longer want to participate in the case against the defendant, it can be for any number of reasons, including the following:
- The victim may be afraid of the accused.
- The victim may love the accused and want to maintain a relationship with him or her. (This is common in domestic violence cases).
- The victim may come to the conclusion that he or she identified the wrong person.
When a victim changes his or her story in a meaningful way, he or she could face charges of filing a false police report. If this is the case, it would be advised that he or she contact a criminal defense attorney that can help ensure that no charges are brought.
Why a Prosecutor Might Want to Drop Charges in a Criminal Case
A prosecutor, just like a victim, might have cause to drop charges for any number of reasons. These include the following:
1. If a victim refuses to participate in the case and wants to drop charges, a prosecuting attorney may be forced to drop the charges.
2. New, credible witnesses come forward and refute the current witnesses’ stories.
3. The defense has enough evidence to sway a jury in their favor, and thus the prosecution has a weakened case.
4. Physical evidence against the accused is weak.
5. New evidence exonerates the accused. A common example of this is newly discovered DNA evidence that was not available when the crime occurred.
6. The prosecutor may drop more serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser charges.
The prosecution’s best evidence has been ruled inadmissible. (This can happen if the evidence was obtained without a valid warrant, and which is why it is important for any one to know their rights revolving around warrants and here obtaining of warrants)
Know Your Rights
On TV, or in movies, you often hear that a police officer needs a “search warrant” to enter a home. That’s exactly correct. A search warrant allows an officer the legal right to enter a home or business to look for evidence. Typically a search warrant will include everything contained in the property’s perimeter, including outbuildings and automobiles that are on the property.
An officer is required to knock, announce himself, and use force to enter unless the warrant specifically states the officer can make an unannounced entry. Also, a police officer does not have to “wait” for admittance by the occupant.
The police officer also does not need to display the warrant to the occupant or owner before entering.
Under the search warrant, an officer cannot search the person of anyone found on the premises unless there is reasonable cause to believe that person is engaged in criminal activity or poses a threat to officer safety.
Grounds for Police Issuing Search Warrant
Under California law, these are the requirements for issuing a search warrant:
- The property was stolen or embezzled
- The property to be seized is evidence that a felony has occurred or that a particular person has committed a felony
- The property is child pornography
- There is a warrant to arrest a person
- The property to be seized is in possession of someone who intends to use it to commit a crime, or the property is in possession of another person to whom he/she may have delivered it for the purpose of concealing it or keeping it from being discovered
- A firearm or other deadly weapon was used at the scene of a crime
- A mentally disturbed person is in possession of a firearm
- A person subject to a protective order or restraining order is in possession of a firearm and refuses to relinquish it
- During an investigation of certain misdemeanor crimes where a felony is also suspected
- An investigator has shown probable cause to a judge.
A Note About Exemptions: Attorneys, doctors, psychologists, and clergy are exempt from searches of professional records that might be in their possession unless they are suspected of criminal activity themselves.
Miranda Rights and Police
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, that individuals arrested because they are believed to have committed a crime are allowed certain rights that must be explained to them. This must happen before any interrogation. It’s important to note that these rights only need to be read when a person has been taken into custody. “Miranda Rights” are meant to protect a suspect from self-incrimination and is protected under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Those “Miranda Rights” are as follows:
- You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
- Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
Interrogations by Police
Regardless of if you are informally interrogated by a police officer (such as during a pullover for a traffic violation) or formally interrogated for a crime, remember that there are specific laws that protect you. An officer will use any number of tactics to get a confession from you, regardless of you are guilty or not. It has been shown in clinical research that these tactics are effective in getting confessions from people who are later exonerated by DNA, and thus have always been innocent.
There are two key things to remember if you are being interrogated:
1. Interrogations are set up and conducted to produce confessions - even from the innocent.
2. The best way to protect yourself is to remain quiet about anything. Do not make a statement without first talking to a criminal defense attorney. The best way to not incriminate yourself is to not say anything at all.
If You End Up In Jail
If you are detained in jail, remember there are still ways to incriminate yourself. There are some general guidelines you should follow, including the following:
- Do not discuss anything over the phone. This is often recorded and can be overheard.
- Do not discuss with fellow in-mates. Remember that anyone in jail is looking for a way out. That could include providing information about you in order to improve their position with the state.
- Do not make statements or answer questions without an attorney present.
- Never waive your rights to something without first speaking with an attorney.
- Know how to be steadfast with your requirement that an attorney be present during any interrogation or questioning.
Jail and Bond
Unless you are dealing with a minor charge, your bond will probably not be set until you appear before a judge during an arraignment. An arraignment is the first part of courtroom-based proceedings. This is what happens during an arraignment:
- The person charged goes before a criminal court judge
- The judge reads the charges against the person
- The judge asks the person if he or she has an attorney or if they need the assistance of a court-appointed attorney
- The judge asks the person if they will plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.”
- The judge sets a bail amount, if necessary
- The judge announces the date of the future proceedings, such as a preliminary hearing, pre-trial motion, or trial.
During an arraignment, you want to make sure you have the best possible outcome from your case. Ensure that you understand everything that you are being charged with. Make sure you have received counsel.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal charges can be complex, requiring much gathering of evidence and information. It’s highly advised that you work with an experience criminal defense attorney that will be able to advise you on the best defense.
Working with Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers
If you or loved ones is accused or charged with any type of crime call us. Let us support and help you during this tough time. Our firm award winning attorneys provides hope and peace of mind. The Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers office is located in both San Diego and Escondido. We have time and time again helped Southern California residents get their cases dismissed or penalties reduced.
Contact Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers, today for a free consultation.
Criminal Defense Attorneys
3555 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: (619) 297-2800