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Can the Prosecutor Drop Charges?


In a criminal case, the prosecutor decides whether to bring charges against someone alleged to have committed a crime. Their decision is based on several factors, including the information in the police report and interviews with those involved. If the prosecutor believes that evidence suggests that the defendant had a role in the alleged offense, they will move forward with the case.

Situations exist when the prosecutor might decide to drop some or all of the charges. For instance, the emergence of exculpatory evidence might make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, even if charges aren’t dropped, the defendant can fight the allegations against them and seek a favorable result.

Discuss your case with our Santa Rosa attorney at the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. by contacting us at (707) 418-5352. We can review your case and determine your legal options.

The Prosecutor’s Role in Bringing Charges

When police officers arrest someone, they complete a report of the incident. The document contains information about what happened, who was involved, and what the defendant was arrested for. The officer forwards the report to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor reviews the police report to determine whether charges should be filed and what the charges should be for. Generally, if the defendant is in custody, the prosecutor should make their decision within 24 hours after the arrest to facilitate the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

The Factors Involved in the Prosecutor’s Decision

In a criminal matter, the prosecutor aims to obtain a conviction by convincing a judge or jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When a case comes across their desk, they’ll look at the details and see if there’s enough evidence for them to be successful at trial. The prosecutor might also interview victims, suspects, witnesses, and the arresting officer to support their decision.

Depending on where the case is being handled, the prosecutor might use the clear and convincing evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt standard when determining how to move forward. The clear and convincing evidence standard means that it’s more likely than not that the defendant committed the crime. In contrast, the beyond a reasonable doubt standard requires a higher degree of certainty.

Neither standard is actually required for deciding to try a person for a crime. The burden rests on the trier of fact once the defendant is on trial to say whether the defendant is guilty or not. Generally, if the prosecutor has probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense, they can submit a complaint to the court.

Convincing the Prosecutor to Drop Charges

Even if the prosecutor brings charges, it’s still possible that they can drop them. The preliminary evidence or information in the police report might not tell the whole story. If arguments can be made to counter these details, the prosecutor might realize that they don’t have enough to go on.

Reasons a prosecutor might drop charges include:

  • The emergence of new evidence: Newly surfaced surveillance footage, GPS data, social media posts, confessions from others, or other exculpatory evidence (that in favor of the defendant) could make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Inadmissible evidence: The court might decide that some of the evidence the prosecutor has can’t be used in the case. This often happens when law enforcement officials overstep their authority when investigating, violating the defendant’s rights.
  • Plea deal: The prosecutor could decide to drop charges if the defendant agrees to cooperate in another case. Usually, this is done in matters involving minor offenses. Some charges might also be dropped if the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more of any additional charges they faced.

What Happens If Charges Aren’t Dropped?

The prosecutor might not have a reason to drop charges, but that doesn’t mean the defendant’s case is hopeless. Although the prosecutor might be convinced that the defendant committed the alleged offense, a judge or jury might see otherwise.

At trial, the defendant and their criminal defense lawyer may raise counterarguments to weaken the prosecutor’s case. If they can cast doubt in the minds of the triers of fact, a guilty verdict cannot be entered.

Contact Our Firm Today

At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we fight for our clients after an arrest, before charges have been filed, and beyond. We pursue available avenues to seek just outcomes.

If you need legal help with your case in Santa Rosa, please call us at (707) 418-5352 or submit an online contact form today.