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I was charged with simple assault in D.C., but the complainant wants to drop the charges. How do I get the charges dismissed?

Assault charges often times occur in situations where the complainant and the individual charged are familiar with each other. Depending on the relationship between the complainant and the charged individual, these assaults can either be categorized as a “domestic violence” assault, or charged as a traditional assault.

The difference between a domestic violence simple assault and a standard simple assault is that a domestic violence assault occurs between individuals who are related by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, a domestic partnership, or when the individuals share a child in common. These relationships are called “intrafamily” relationships.  D.C. Code 16-1001.  Most intrafamily assault cases in D.C . will be heard in a courtroom that hears domestic violence cases. All other assaults are usually heard before the calendar Judges who hear non-domestic violence cases.

Regardless of whether or not the case involves a domestic violence situation, once the police are called to the scene of an alleged assault, if they determine a possible aggressor to the assault, they are required to make an arrest.

Once someone is arrested, who decides whether to "press charges"/pursue the charges?

When it comes to criminal prosecutions in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Attorney’s Office decides who to prosecute and who not to prosecute. This means that once someone is arrested, it is only the prosecutor that has the ability to move forward on the charges, or drop those charges. The complainant or the person who called the police may not necessarily have the power to "drop" the charges.

Often times, people confuse procedures in criminal cases with civil suits. In a criminal setting the charges are brought and can be dropped by a prosecutor, but in a civil setting a plaintiff filing a law suit against someone can later withdraw their complaint if they later change their mind on pressing charges.

Can the charges still get dismissed if the prosecutor wants to pursue the charges even though the complainant does not?

The short answer to this question is yes. There are various ways that charges can get dismissed. For people with a minimal criminal history, there may be an opportunity for a diversion agreement. This usually requires the person charged to complete classes and/or community service for a full dismissal. Alternatively, charges can be dismissed for want of prosecution if the government is not ready at the time of trial to proceed forward. Also, the government may sometimes “nolle” the charges (i.e. dismiss the case) if they simply do not have enough evidence to proceed. And finally, a case can always get dismissed at trial or a “not-guilty” verdict can be entered if the Judge decides in favor of the accused after hearing the evidence presented at trial.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a simple assault in D.C., it is important to have an attorney with you every step of the way to inform you of your rights and to advise you of all the options available in your specific situation. Call (202) 403-2292 or contact us for a legal consultation today.