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Dropping the Charges

This post is a refresher to a previous post on the same subject from August 11, 2012.

A large part of my practice involves defending people charged with domestic assault (or other domestic-related incidents such as uttering threats, criminal harassment, etc.).  These are difficult cases as they generally involve those who have never had any involvement in the criminal justice system and are now facing the prospect of a criminal conviction.

It is very important that an accused person charged with domestic assault retain counsel at the earliest opportunity.  This is because a lawyer can make recommendations on how to move forward with the case quickly as well as explore resolution possibilities that don’t involve a trial or guilty plea (I note however that I will readily take my cases to trial and have had very good results in doing this).

I have on several occasions been consulted by the complainant in a domestic assault allegation and asked the question “How do I drop the charges?”

The simple answer:  you can’t.

Criminal charges are laid by the police and prosecuted by the Crown Attorney (remember the opening sequence to Law & Order).  Only the Crown has the authority to “drop” or rather withdraw or stay, a criminal charge.  This explanation may be frustrating to a complainant, but there is some logic to it.  The Crown has a responsibility to various parties:  the complainant, the accused, society as a whole, etc., and cannot simply cease a criminal conviction because an alleged victim wants it to stop.

If a complainant does not want a prosecution to continue, they can of course express this to the Crown.  It is generally advisable to seek some type of legal advice rather then sending a letter to the Crown or the victim witness office.  A lawyer can properly advise on how to approach the Crown and how the complainant can have their views heard.

In my experience a complainant who minimizes the allegations, or offers a recantation without a proper explanation, may be treated with some suspicion by the Crown.  This makes some sense – again, the Crown has a responsibility to protect the safety of the complainant, and if an assault did in fact occur, a complainant who minimizes the allegations does not effectively protect their safety in the future.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman. Adam can be reached at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.