How do I drop a case?
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You are the parent of a teenage boy. He has a mental health condition that means he can sometimes be difficult to control. He becomes agitated, pushes you out of his way and smashes a plant pot outside your front door. You can’t calm him down and you are concerned about your safety, your property and, importantly, your son’s mental and emotional well-being. Eventually you call the police out of desperation. You are relieved when they arrive. They help you to diffuse the situation and calm your son down. You tell them what happened and they ask you to sign your statement setting out your version of events. You co-operate, of course.
They arrest your son.
They take him to the police station and lock him in a cell while he awaits interview. They charge him with criminal damage and assault and give him a date to attend court. This is not what you wanted, so you tell the police you don’t want to press charges, but your pleas fall on deaf ears.
The prosecution goes ahead, despite your wishes.
Why can’t I drop the charges?
The above example is a genuine scenario that our client’s mother faced. She, like many others, asked us how she could drop the charges against her son, or withdraw her allegation, and she, like many others, was surprised when we told her it is not that straightforward. Contrary to her belief, the case was not hers and it was not up to her how it proceeded.
There are many reasons why you may no longer want to pursue a complaint that you have made to the police. For example, you may be too nervous to attend court and give evidence, you may even have been pressurised into withdrawing a complaint. Or, as in the above example, you may never have meant to initiate criminal proceedings in the first place.
What most people don’t realise is that when a witness statement is made, the author of the statement automatically becomes a potential prosecution witness in potential criminal proceedings. That person can, if necessary, be compelled to attend court and give evidence, even if they don’t want to. It is the police and the Crown Prosecution Service who decide whether to pursue a case based on the available evidence. If the case meets the test for charging, it is the state which lays the charge(s), not the person who called the police in the first place (although Private Prosecutions are on the rise). Thus, the case is not yours and it is not up to you whether it goes any further. Whilst your views can and should be taken into account, there are good public policy reasons why they will not (and arguably should not) be the determining factor.
Withdrawing support for a prosecution
The state needs to know why you have made the decision to withdraw your support in determining whether to pursue the prosecution. Clearly, if there is evidence that you have been pressurised or intimidated into withdrawing your support for a prosecution, the police will investigate this and it is unlikely that the state will be persuaded to drop the charges in such circumstances.
If you no longer support a prosecution, or never supported one in the first place, you should communicate this to the police or the Crown Prosecution Service. You will be required to make a further statement explaining why you are withdrawing your support for the prosecution and confirming whether your original complaint was true or not. Old Bailey Solicitors can help you to draft your statement and advise you of the potential implications of making a ‘withdrawal statement’. Seeking legal advice is especially important where your original account was untrue.
Domestic violence cases
Victims of domestic abuse are rightly considered to need state protection, even if they do not necessarily want that protection. The state takes the view that the abusive nature of the situation in which they find themselves has the potential to impair their judgment and necessitates state intervention. Therefore, it is often considered to be in the public interest to pursue domestic violence prosecutions, even where the victim wants to drop the case.
Therefore, if they consider it to be in the public interest to do so, the state may pursue a prosecution, even when you have withdrawn your support. They may decide that there is enough additional evidence to pose a realistic prospect of conviction without having to rely on your evidence. For example, there may be CCTV, police officer’s body worn video footage, another witness to the offence, or the accused may have made admissions in their police station interview. Alternatively, they may decide to effectively force you to attend court and give evidence by issuing a witness summons.
The umbrella of domestic violence covers a broad range of scenarios and does not only apply to those in a romantic relationship. The above example relating to our client and his mother constituted a ‘domestic’ situation which meant that, in order to ensure the right outcome in that case, considered written representations, setting out why it was not in the public interest to prosecute our client, needed to be made.
What do I do next?
If you are a complainant or potential prosecution witness wishing to withdraw support for a prosecution, you must be very careful that you do not expose yourself to allegations of wasting police time or attempting to pervert the course of justice. You may have received a witness summons and not know what to do, or what your options are.
Conversely, if you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, or a defendant in criminal proceedings and you have been informed that a prosecution witness wants to drop the charges against you, you must be cautious as to whether or not you are breaching your bail conditions, or worse, exposing yourself to the serious allegation of intimidating a witness by liaising with someone regarding dropping the charges against you.
Whether you have made an allegation, or are on the receiving end of one, Camilla Rents has enjoyed considerable success acting for prosecution witnesses and those accused of criminal offences who do not wish to the police or Crown Prosecution Service to pursue a prosecution. She has an impressive track record of making written representations to the state and persuading them against a prosecution in a number of different circumstances.
If you wish to discuss any of the matters raised in this blog, contact Camilla for an initial consultation.