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Can a victim drop criminal charges after they are filed?

Criminal charges in Utah can only be filed in court through a government prosecutor. While a victim is given certain rights under Utah law, a victim does not have the authority or the right to demand dismissal of the pending criminal case. This can create a conflict between a victim and a prosecutor. If you are a victim in a criminal case, you have a right to be represented by an experienced criminal lawyer who can help ensure that your rights as a victim are protected and that your voice is heard.

A person who calls the police in Utah to report a crime may later decide not to pursue the criminal case. While there is no single, simple solution to this situation, there are steps you can take if you have decided that you do not want the criminal charges pursued. But there are potential consequences that should be considered before taking any particular course of action. Consulting with an experienced Utah criminal lawyer can help you determine the best way to proceed. Based in Salt Lake City, criminal attorney Stephen Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Criminal v. Civil Cases in Utah

A Utah criminal case is fundamentally different from a civil case. In a civil case, a plaintiff is generally able to move to dismiss the case at any point, without being required to provide a reason or justification for the dismissal. In a criminal case, however, the victim is not considered the "plaintiff." In a criminal case, the government (city, state, or federal government) takes the role of plaintiff. Theoretically at least, the government pursues a criminal case on behalf of all citizens, not just the victim. Thus, while a victim's interests must be considered by a prosecutor, the prosecutor must consider other factors and is allowed to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether to dismiss or pursue a criminal case. Even if a victim wants to have the charges dropped, a prosecutor may still move forward in the criminal case.

The Risks of Changing Your Story

As a victim who no longer wants to pursue a criminal case, you may be tempted to change your story. But changing your story can potentially get you in trouble. If you convince a prosecutor that your original report to police was not accurate, you may succeed in getting the original criminal case dropped. But you may also find yourself facing criminal charges for filing a false police report. If you testify under oath in court to a different set of facts than you reported to police, a prosecutor could also charge you with perjury.

If you tell the prosecutor a different story, but the prosecutor still believes that the original report was correct, you can cause additional problems for the defendant in the criminal case. A prosecutor may believe that the defendant has pressured, threatened, or otherwise influenced you to change your story. In such circumstances, a defendant could face an additional criminal charge of witness tampering.

Consequences of Not Responding to a Subpoena

If you fail to respond to a subpoena that has been properly served on you, you could find yourself being found in contempt of court. Although most subpoenas in Utah criminal cases are issued by attorneys, a properly served subpoena still carries the authority of a court order. Failure to comply with a subpoena or failing to appear in court to testify as ordered can result in being found in contempt of court.

If a prosecutor has reason to believe that a witness is not going to comply with a subpoena, she can petition the court for a material witness warrant. This kind of warrant allows police to arrest you and hold you in jail until you finish testifying in the case. In rare circumstances, prosecutors have even used material witness warrants against victims in a case.

Spousal Privileges and Rights in Utah Criminal Cases

A victim who is also the spouse of the defendant in a Utah criminal case has additional rights. Under the Utah State Constitution, a husband or wife has an absolute right to refuse to testify in a criminal case against his or her spouse. This spousal testimonial privilege is separate and distinct from the spousal communications privilege, which provides only that communications between spouses may be inadmissable in evidence.

Finding a Criminal Attorney in Utah

If you have decided that you no longer want to pursue a criminal case in which you are the victim, you should consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. Based in Salt Lake City, and representing clients throughout Utah, Stephen Howard has defended literally thousands of serious criminal cases during his career. He has successfully assisted victims in cases where they have not wanted charges pursued. If you are the victim in a criminal case, you have the right to have your voice heard. Having an experienced criminal attorney on your side can help ensure that your rights are protected.

Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation.  


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
340 East 400 South, Suite 25, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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