So you heard that your friend had his charges dropped and you saw on television where a victim contacted the police to drop the charges. What does that mean?
In Oklahoma charging decisions are generally made by the local district attorney or his assistants or, for certain crimes, by the state attorney general or his assistants. They are not made by the victim or the victim's family. That means that even if the victim no longer wants the defendant prosecuted they might still be prosecuted; whether the defendant is prosecuted or not in the face of an uncooperative victim or witness depends on several factors.
This most frequently comes up in domestic violence cases so that's the context that we will be explaining it in. An altercation happens and the police are called and take their report. The victim or other witnesses tell the police what happened. The police then either arrest the alleged perpetrator or not and make a referral to their local District Attorney. The District Attorney then evaluates the available evidence and decides whether or not to file charges against the alleged perpetrator. Whether they do or not typically has very little to do with how cooperative or uncooperative any victims might be because the District Attorney does not know that yet.
Once the charges are filed then a warrant is issued for the arrest of the defendant named in the charges. He or she is eventually arrested and then they are brought before a special judge for their initial appearance where the judge will enter a plea of not guilty, set their bond amount, and give the defendant a further court date for a preliminary hearing or preliminary hearing conference.
At that preliminary hearing conference the attorney for the defendant will converse with the state's attorney (usually an assistant district attorney but possibly an assistant attorney general). They will discuss the evidence and the state's recommendation for punishment (keep in mind that the state is not required to give a recommendation but they may to facilitate a plea agreement). They will decide whether a preliminary hearing is necessary or whether the defendant is willing to waive their right to it.
Dropping Charges Because of Witness Non-Cooperation. This is where the cooperativeness of the alleged victims comes into play. If nobody is alleged to have witnessed a crime but the witnesses then their failure to appear is damaging to the state's case. The police cannot testify to what somebody else reported except in very limited circumstances, however, people often ignore their rights and the alleged perpetrator will confess or consent to a search and that makes the police officer a witness to the crime. So generally, if the only available witnesses refuse to appear then the state cannot make their case at preliminary hearing. Generally, a court will grant the state a continuance to secure their witnesses, but at some point the Court will either dismiss the charges for failure to prosecute or the State will agree to dismiss the charges. It is also possible that the Court will dismiss (or "drop") charges if the State is unable to present evidence of them in a hearing. Sometimes a witness revises their story so that it no longer supports the charges that were originally filed, for example.
Dropping Charges Pursuant to an Agreement with the Prosecutor. Oftentimes the State will agree to drop some counts in exchange for a plea agreement on other counts. So a DUI plea agreement might result in open container or traffic offenses being dropped in exchange for the defendant's plea.
These are the two things in Oklahoma that often result in dropped charges.
If the District Attorney's office believes it can prove that a defendant committed a crime then they will generally prosecute the offender. It takes a change of the facts the State believes to be true or a change of the witnesses available to prove those facts.
Often people call us after being arrested and seem to believe that even though they were arrested and had to pay a bond to get out of jail that the State will somehow not file charges in their case. It is important to secure counsel as soon as possible so that negotiations and preparation for hearings (such as bond hearings to reduce bail) can begin. Waiting until the last minute with the hope (the delusion really) that the State will decline to file in your case is a poor decision. The only hope you really have is that you secure good counsel now. It may be that we can get some or all of the charges dropped, but they aren't get dropped just because you wish for it.
If you have been arrested or have charges pending you have a serious problem. Call us today at (405) 601-9393. We are state-wide with reasonable rates and excellent results!