Can Someone Press Charges Without Proof? The Bad News & What to Do

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Criminal Records | October 28, 2022

Can someone press charges without proof a man with his hand on his chin wonders while looking at another person who trying to press charges of vandalism without proof and a police charges document behind him.

Table of Contents

No one wants to find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and the fear of being unjustly accused leaves many people wondering, can someone press charges without proof?

There is good news and also bad news with regard to criminal charges.

The good news is that individuals themselves cannot press charges against another person; rather, they can file a complaint or a police report.

The bad news is that a complaint or police report often leads to a criminal investigation which can then lead to criminal charges, and “proof” can come in many forms in a criminal investigation.

The complete guide explains what constitutes “proof,” what happens when criminal charges are filed, and what to do in situations where someone is uncertain whether criminal charges have been brought against them.

Can Someone Press Charges Without Proof of a Crime?

Being charged with a crime is scary, particularly with the possibility of being caught unawares by criminal charges. For anyone wondering “Can someone press charges without proof?” the best answer is that legally, an individual cannot be charged with a crime without sufficient evidence to implicate the person in that crime. In other words, “NO,” charges cannot be pressed without proof, but it is important to understand two things:9

  1. Individuals themselves do not press charges.
  2. There are many forms of proof which can justify criminal charges.

Who Presses Charges?

Many people believe that crime victims are the ones who choose whether or not to press charges against a perpetrator. In general, this is an incorrect idea which is regularly reinforced by mainstream media such as crime shows.

Screenshot of Offices of the United States Attorneys website page for Justice 101 with yellow arrow pointing to what happens during charging in a criminal proceeding.

The U.S. Department of Justice, and each state, outlines the criminal charging process, which indicates that only prosecutors can file charges, not individuals.

The victim’s role in initiating a criminal case is deciding whether or not to make the initial police report or complaint about the crime. If a person chooses to go to the police to report a crime, they will be asked to provide as much detail as possible, including any “proof” of the crime.

Law enforcement will then review the report and decide whether there is sufficient cause to investigate. If so, a criminal investigation will ensue, which includes evidence collection. The results of the criminal investigation will be submitted to the prosecutor who then determines if there is sufficient evidence to press charges.15

Screenshot of Pennsylvania Code website page for rules on criminal procedure with yellow arrow pointing to rules on approval of private complaints in a criminal case.

Private complaints are investigated and either moved forward with criminal proceedings, or rejected based on proof and merit.

Thus, the prosecutor (often district attorney) is responsible for pressing charges. Note: There are a few exceptions to this. For example, according to Pennsylvania Code Rule 506, the state of Pennsylvania allows individuals to file private criminal complaints.33

What Is Proof?

The next question then is “What is proof?” The legal standard of proof required by the courts to press charges is called “probable cause”.4 Probable cause can be a bit of a murky area, but it means that there is enough evidence to implicate the accused individual in the case.1 There are many types of evidence which can be used to demonstrate probable cause, such as:9

  • Audio files
  • Video files
  • Weapons
  • Chemicals, substances
  • Documents
  • Testimonies
  • Other physical evidence (DNA, prints, etc.)
  • Circumstantial evidence

Probable cause may be demonstrated with a single type of evidence, but often relies upon a combination of collected evidence. Most individuals are aware of physical types of evidence, but circumstantial evidence is more ambiguous. Circumstantial evidence is that which does not directly prove a claim, but which allows inferences to be made which support the claim.

An example of circumstantial evidence in a criminal case could be a witness report placing the accused person in the vicinity of the crime at the time it was committed. Another example might be information indicating that the victim and accused were on bad terms.

Screenshot of Maricopa County website page for search and seizure with yellow arrow pointing to probable cause versus reasonable suspicion when determining a basis for search and seizure warrants in Maricopa county.

There is a distinct difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion.

Thus, circumstantial evidence opens up a whole other dimension of what may constitute proof in a criminal case. Anyone who is uncertain whether they may have been charged with a crime can get a free criminal background check quickly and easily.

Can You Be Charged With Domestic Violence Without Proof?

For people who have wondered “Can you be charged with domestic violence without proof?” the answer is that criminal charges require proof, but police reports do not necessarily. When an individual, perhaps the victim of domestic violence, files a complaint with the police, they will be prompted to provide any and all evidence relevant to the alleged crime. The more proof an individual is able to provide, the more likely the police are to pursue the case.17

The police will review the report and determine if there appears to be enough evidence to investigate. If the police find evidence, the prosecutor may elect to press charges. Remember that evidence can be circumstantial, meaning that physical proof is not always required.

Victims of domestic violence can also take civil action and request a protective order against their aggressors.

Can You Be Charged With Vandalism Without Proof? (Can Someone Press Charges Without Proof of Vandalism?)

Vandalism is a term that generally describes the intentional destruction of someone else’s property, including defacing public property with graffiti. Many people have wondered what qualifies as proof of vandalism and “Can you be charged with vandalism without proof?”

To answer the question “Can someone press charges without proof of vandalism?” remember that while probable cause is the burden of proof required to press charges against someone, proof can come in many different forms. In the case of vandalism, sometimes evidence, as limited as possession of tools to commit vandalism, can be sufficient to bring about charges.7

Individuals wondering “How do I know if I have been charged with a crime?” can check their criminal record to find out.

Can Someone Press Charges Without Proof? What Happens When Someone Presses Charges Against You?

Anyone who has wondered “Can someone press charges without proof?” may also be wondering what happens when someone presses charges against you. Although individuals themselves cannot typically press charges, they can file a complaint or make a report to the police. If someone gives a report to the police, they will be asked to provide details and information related to the alleged crime and offer any evidence they have to implicate the accused person.

The police officer then reviews the report and decides if there is sufficient information to proceed with a criminal investigation. If the officer determines that an investigation is warranted, they will proceed to collect evidence by any legal means necessary.

This is inclusive of physical evidence, witness interviews, and circumstantial evidence. Once significant evidence has been compiled, the police officer will submit the report to the prosecuting attorney. The police officer may elect to get an arrest warrant and proceed with an arrest at this point. Once an individual is arrested, they can expect to submit fingerprints and have the right to call their attorney.

Meanwhile, the prosecuting attorney reviews the report and weighs the evidence to decide if it is sufficient to prosecute. If the suspect has been arrested, there is typically a two to three-day window for the prosecutor to press charges against the individual before they must be released from jail.

After charges are filed, an arraignment is scheduled to present the charges in front of the grand jury. The accused individual can enter a plea at this time and be assigned a public defender if they cannot afford a private attorney.9,12,20

What Happens When Someone Presses Charges Against You for Fighting?

Depending on the nature of the altercation, what happens when someone presses charges against you for fighting can vary. If the individual who files the complaint can provide sufficient evidence, the accused individual could face charges ranging from Disorderly Conduct to Assault.

While Disorderly Conduct is a misdemeanor charge, often resulting in a fine under $200, an Assault charge can range in classification and punitive severity. Many Assault charges are still considered misdemeanors, but even these usually result in higher fines (>$500) and jail time. More severe Assault charges such as aggravated assault or felony assault can be leveled against a person in a case where the fight led to significant bodily harm.

Individuals charged after an altercation should speak with a lawyer to ensure their side of the story is represented in court.14

Can Someone Press Charges for Someone Else?

Filing a police report can be intimidating, particularly for individuals who have just experienced a traumatic event, and some people may wonder “Can someone press charges for someone else?” A member of the public cannot press charges, period, no matter whether they were directly impacted by the crime or not. However, anyone who has witnessed a crime can file police reports or criminal complaints.

In fact, for some crimes, the law mandates that a witness file a police report (e.g. child abuse, hit-and-run accidents). Additionally, victims who do not feel comfortable reporting to the police can request that a trusted person make the call for them. While this is not always allowed, it may be in many jurisdictions.25

In general, prosecutors (county attorneys, district attorneys) are the ones who press criminal charges against a suspect of a crime. Considering this, someone else technically does press charges for victims of crimes.

What Happens When You Press Charges on Someone?

Any person who has wondered what happens when you press charges on someone needs to know that the process does vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, victims do not decide whether or not to press charges. Rather, they make a choice whether to report a crime to the police.

When someone files a police report against another individual, they will be asked to provide every detail of the alleged crime/incident and every modicum of evidence they have. Sometimes, police reports are filled out when law enforcement is called to the scene of a crime by a victim or witness, and other times, the report is filed at the police station after the fact.

Once a police report has been filed, the police will review it and usually proceed to investigate the alleged crime by collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. When the police have finished their investigation and feel that all material evidence has been gathered, the report is sent to the prosecutor, often a district attorney.

The prosecutor reviews the substance of the case and determines whether to press charges against the suspect. Several factors are taken into consideration, such as the suspect’s criminal record, the strength of the evidence collected, and whether witnesses and victim are likely to be cooperative.

In some states and jurisdictions, prosecutors may present the case to a grand jury to decide whether charges should be pressed. When the prosecutor chooses to press charges, they must file a complaint with the court which names the suspect and alleged crimes. An arrest warrant is usually issued at this time.

After charges have been filed and the suspect is arrested, the defendant appears before a judge at an arraignment to be notified of all charges and their right to an attorney. A public defender can be appointed when the defendant lacks the resources for a private attorney. The defendant can enter a plea at this time. A bail amount may be set at this time, as well as future court dates to proceed with the trial.24

What Happens When You Press Charges on Someone for Assault?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides data and statistics about crime victimization cases across the United States, many of which fall under the umbrella of assault.34 Assault is a fairly broad category from a legal standpoint, and thus, what happens when you press charges on someone for assault can range, as well.

Simply defined, an assault is any action that puts another person in a position where there is a reasonable fear of physical harm. There are various levels of assault, and the consequences vary accordingly.

Screenshot of Bureau of Justice Statistics for programs and initiatives with yellow arrow pointing to information on national crime victimization survey.

The Bureau of Justice compiles statistics each year on crime victims using surveys.

When someone files a police report for assault, they will be asked to show that there was either physical harm or a threat of physical harm. Based upon the police investigation and prosecutor’s review of the case, the following assault charges could be leveled at the offender:

  • Simple Assault: There was intent to cause harm to the victim, and the victim had a reasonable fear of harm to their person. There may be minor physical harm involved. This is usually a misdemeanor charge.
  • Aggravated Assault: This may involve a weapon or result in serious physical injury. Depending on the level of physical injury, an aggravated assault is often classified as a felony.
  • Felony Assault: An aggravated assault which resulted in severe physical harm and is punishable by greater prison time and fines.
  • Battery: In many jurisdictions, battery is charged as a type of assault rather than a separate charge. “Battery” means that the offender intended to physically harm the victim and followed through with criminal acts which did indeed cause physical harm. The terms “Assault and Battery” are commonly charged together.

If the suspect is prosecuted, the victim may be eligible to receive financial compensation from the government for the expenses accrued as a result of the assault (medical bills, therapy, etc.). Victims may also elect to pursue protective orders against their aggressors, particularly if the suspect is out on bail.13 A personal injury lawyer can guide individuals through the criminal case and any civil actions they may seek.17

What Happens When You Press Charges on Someone for Battery?

Battery differs from assault in that battery, by definition, involves the intentional committal of acts of harm against another individual, while an assault charge can be for an attempt to harm or threat of harm.13 In many states, battery is classified and prosecuted as a type of assault.8 Individuals wondering what happens when you press charges on someone for battery should know that if a prosecutor decides to press charges for battery, it can result in criminal penalties such as significant jail time and civil penalties, such as financial compensation.5

Screenshot of Idaho Legislature website page for Idaho statutes with yellow arrow pointing to what is assault and battery and its punishment in Idaho.

Assault and battery charges can be pressed by the victim, but the state or local prosecutor files them.

In some states, “battery” is broken down into sub-groups based on type and severity, and may include the following:

  • Simple Battery: Intentional, harmful contact against another. No physical harm or injury required.
  • Sexual Battery: Intentional and non-consensual touching of another person’s intimate areas.
  • Domestic Battery: Intentional, harmful contact between romantic partners; considered domestic violence.
  • Aggravated Battery: Intentional, harmful contact resulting in serious injury; most severe classification of battery.5

Aggravated battery has the most serious criminal consequences. Note that a victim of battery can also sue for compensatory damages for a wide range of expenses accrued from the battery. A short list includes:

  • Therapy/psychological treatment
  • Medical bills
  • Insomnia/Anxiety
  • Lost wages
  • Scarring
  • Pain and suffering

It is not necessary to have an active criminal case to file a civil suit for battery. The burden of proof is less cumbersome in civil cases, and a victim can often receive compensation even when the suspect was found “not guilty” in criminal court.31

What Happens When You Press Charges on Someone for Domestic Violence?

Similar to battery cases, domestic violence cases can go the criminal route or civil route. What happens when you press charges on someone for domestic violence depends upon which route the victim chooses to take.

Screenshot of Pennsylvania Government website page for Department of Human Services with yellow arrow pointing to domestic violence crisis & prevention service in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Human Services offers a number of ways for victims of domestic violence to achieve help.

To file a civil lawsuit against their aggressor, a victim of physical violence would probably need to hire an attorney to litigate the case. Depending on the state, there are statutes of limitations on how long an individual can wait to file a civil suit. Civil suits can take months and even years to settle but can result in compensatory damages for the victim.

A criminal case for domestic violence is initiated by the victim filing a police report. If the subsequent investigation finds “probable cause” that a crime has been committed, it is likely that the suspect will be prosecuted. Once the prosecution decides to press charges and proceed against the defendant, the victim will be sought to provide testimony in court.

The case will usually proceed whether or not the victim chooses to cooperate. Particularly in cases of domestic violence, the prosecutor is less inclined to drop a case at the victim’s request, as the request may be made out of fear of or sense of loyalty to the aggressor.10

During a criminal case against a domestic partner, the victim’s lawyer may advise the victim to apply for a protective order against the defendant.

How To File Criminal Charges Against Someone (How To Press Charges Against Someone)

Many people have asked “Can someone press charges without proof?,” and the answer is generally “No” because there is a thorough, objective process which must be undertaken before charges can be brought against a person. This process involves filing a police report, undergoing an investigation, and waiting for a prosecutor’s decision on the case.

 

According to the National Crime Victim Law Institute,35 there are a large minority of states which have provisional laws to allow private citizens to either file a private criminal complaint/affidavit or directly access the grand jury, under restricted circumstances and when the traditional avenue for seeking criminal justice has been exhausted. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

The majority of these provisions allow for an individual to attempt to initiate a criminal case against someone after the traditional route of filing a police report and going through the District Attorney has been tried. Even in these states, the individual (witness or victim of the crime) does not press charges themselves but can sometimes petition the grand jury or court directly.

These instances may be referred back to the DA for further review, or a judge may make an independent decision to proceed with charges in some cases. However, these scenarios are all exceptions to the rule, and the preferred steps for how to file criminal charges against someone are as follows:23

Related Reading: How to Find Out if Criminal Charges Are Filed: Know These 5 Rights

Step 1: The Victim Should File a Report With the Local Police

The report may be filed at the scene of the crime when police are called or after the fact at the police station. Sometimes, reports can also be made over the phone, and some police departments may accept third party reports.

Step 2: The Victim Should Cooperate With All Criminal Investigations

If the police decide to investigate the alleged crime, they will seek to interview the victim and any witnesses. Providing complete and accurate information to law enforcement at this stage is crucial to ensuring the case can be prosecuted. The victim may wish to file for a protective order if they fear harm from the aggressor.

Step 3: The Victim Should Await the Prosecutor’s (DA) Decision on Whether To Press Charges

The victim should be notified of the prosecutor or grand jury’s decision regarding whether to prosecute the suspect.

Step 4: The Victim Should Attend All Court Dates as the Prosecutor Advises and Cooperate With All Criminal Proceedings

The victim can choose to employ a private attorney but does not have to.

Step 5: If the DA Elected Not To Prosecute the Case, The Victim Can Check for Provisional Laws in Their State To File a Private Complaint

The National Crime Victim Law Institute is an excellent resource for a summary of state laws on private citizen complaint filing.35 (See Lancaster County, Pennsylvania’s website for an example of how to file a private criminal complaint).4

How To Press Charges on Someone for Theft

If an individual has been the victim of a theft crime, they may wonder how to press charges on someone for theft. The course of action for the victim, in this case, is to file a police report immediately.

Especially in cases of theft, time is of the essence as the perpetrators are likely to distance themselves from the scene of the crime. The suspected person (if there is a suspect) will likely be the object of a criminal investigation once the report is filed. Note that theft is often difficult to investigate, and cases of petty theft may be deemed an inefficient use of public resources.

A victim who wishes to pursue a civil case against the suspect for damages (the value of the stolen item) should speak with an attorney to initiate the process.28

How To Press Charges on Someone for Assault

Knowing how to press charges on someone for assault is crucial for anyone who has sustained bodily harm or fear of harm from another individual. Unfortunately, the victim of assault cannot press charges directly. However, they can rely on law enforcement to pursue the case and pass it to the District Attorney for a decision.

Victims of assault should file a police report as soon as possible. Reports can sometimes be made over the phone, but many police departments only accept in-person reports. The report will include the victim’s name, the suspect’s name, the address of both (when known), the location and time of the assault, and all details of the crime.17

Screenshot of USA Government website page for crime and prisons with yellow arrow pointing to references for reporting crime.

USA.gov has a provision that allows people to report a crime they’ve seen or file complaints about law enforcement officers or judges.

Descriptions of the attacker will be requested when the victim does not know the person. Police may also request information about material witnesses as well as any physical evidence the victim may have in their possession.13

The police will conduct an investigation into the alleged crime and gather any and all evidence they can find. The prosecutor usually makes the final determination of whether charges can and should be pressed.

How Long Does It Take To Press Charges on Someone?

For anyone who has ever wondered “How long does it take to press charges on someone?” know that there is not a precise time frame as every process is different. The time it takes to file a police report depends upon how busy the police station is, how much information there is about the alleged crime, as well as the emotional state of the person reporting. Filing a report can take a couple of hours, give or take.

Screenshot of Texas Government website page for Houston Police Department with yellow arrow pointing to online police report.

The police investigation is tricky, and depending upon the complexity of the case, it can last for months or even years.3 Once the police submit the report to the District Attorney’s office, it must be reviewed and examined to determine whether it warrants criminal charges.

In many cases, the police make the arrest after they have decided there is “probable cause,” but before they submit the report to the DA.18 In most states, the prosecutor has 2 or 3 days to press charges once an individual has been arrested and taken into custody.6,19 Knowing how to find out if someone was arrested can also ease a victim’s mind.

How Much Does It Cost To Press Charges Against Someone?

Many legal and criminal processes come with a fee, so it’s no surprise that many people inquire “How much does it cost to press charges?” The good news is that because reporters of crimes are not the ones that press charges, it does not cost them anything. It is free to report a crime to law enforcement. Police do not charge a fee to file criminal complaints, and individuals do not need to retain a lawyer.

How Long After an Incident Can You Press Charges? (Can You Press Charges After 24 Hours?)

Many people have asked, “How long after an incident can you press charges?” Often, crime victims experience a period of shock immediately following a crime, and there may be an extended period of shame as well. When they finally feel able to go to the police about the crime, they may think that too much time has passed or the window for reporting has closed.

To address a common misconception: Can you press charges after 24 hours? While it is true that contacting the police sooner is always better, as this gives the police a better chance of finding evidence and the suspect of the crime, there is not a mandated 24-hour reporting window.25

In fact, depending upon the severity of the crime, an individual may be able to report a crime up to five years after the date of occurrence. Some general estimates statutes of limitations on reporting include:12,24

  • Petty crimes: 6 months to 1 year
  • Misdemeanor crimes: 2 years
  • Felony crimes: 5 to 6 years
  • The most severe crimes (rape, murder, child abuse): no limit

Statutes of limitations often vary by state. Note: Though a crime may be reportable for many years after the date that it happened, this does not mean it will be prosecutable. As time elapses, evidence is harder to gather, and the DA is less likely to be able to mount a case against the accused.

With regard to filing charges, the prosecutor typically has 48 to 72 hours after the suspect’s arrest to press charges. Cases, where the charges are not filed within this window, will often be dismissed in court.

How Long Do You Have To Press Charges for Theft?

Theft charges are typically going to fall within the range of petty misdemeanors or misdemeanors. Thus, in response to the question “How long do you have to press charges for theft?” a police report likely needs to be filed within six months of the crime.21

Screenshot of Nebraska Legislature website page for revised statutes with yellow arrow pointing to provisions on grading of theft offenses in Nebraska.

Each state has statues in place ‘grading’ various crimes, such as theft or criminal mischief.

Note that theft would be difficult to prosecute after much time has passed unless there is hard evidence (e.g. video footage) against the accused.

How Long Does Someone Have To Press Charges for Assault? (How Long Can You Wait To Press Charges for Assault?)

It’s common for people to wonder “How long can you wait to press charges for assault?” as an assault is often a very traumatic ordeal that a victim is likely not eager to revisit for the purpose of a police report. However, it is critical for victims of assault to file a report with the police as soon as possible to ensure that the police are able to collect valuable evidence in the case.

 

For people asking “How long does someone have to press charges for assault?,” technically, a victim of assault can file a report up to two years after the event (in cases of felony assault, even longer). Some states do not have statutes of limitations on sexual assault, particularly in cases involving a minor.22 However, it becomes increasingly difficult to prosecute a case the farther out the report is made.

Filing a civil suit for assault often has a two-year window, as well.13,31

How Long Can You Wait To Press Charges for Domestic Violence?

Civil suits for domestic violence typically need to be initiated within one to six years depending upon the state of residence. From a criminal case viewpoint, “How long can you wait to press charges for domestic violence?” often depends on the severity of the case. Misdemeanor charges have a narrower statute of limitations than felony charges.

A victim of domestic violence is always encouraged to file a police report as soon as they are able, but most cases are reportable up to two years from the time of the event.11

What Happens if You Don’t Press Charges?

A myth that has been perpetuated in mainstream media is that victims make the choice whether or not to press charges, and this has led many people to wonder what happens if you don’t press charges. Individuals do not make the decision to press charges in the vast majority of cases.

This is the responsibility of prosecutors such as the District Attorney. Victims of a crime can choose whether or not to file a police report of the crime. Once a report is filed, it goes into the system and may become an active investigation if the police deem it pursuable.

Individuals should be intentional about their decision to report a crime to the police, understanding that the police have a duty to follow up on every lead and investigate any and all crimes that they become aware of.32

While victim participation is not a necessity to press and pursue a criminal case, it does help the process along. If the victim refused to cooperate in criminal proceedings, the prosecutor may elect not to proceed.

Can You Be Charged With Assault if the Victim Doesn’t Press Charges? (Can Police Prosecute if Victim Doesn’t Press Charges?)

Many people have wondered “Can police prosecute if victim doesn’t press charges for assault?” or “Can you be charged with assault if the victim doesn’t press charges?” If a police report has been made by the victim or another individual accusing someone of assault, then yes, that person can be charged.

The victim in a case or the person who files a police report does not make the decision to press charges. They simply report the occurrence and facts of a criminal event.

The police will review the report and determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation. They will likely choose to investigate any crime which is serious in nature and may yield sufficient evidence to prosecute as it is their duty to seek justice and protect the commonwealth.4 If a police report is never filed, criminal charges would not be brought against the person in question.

Can a Victim Talk to the District Attorney To Drop Charges?

The District Attorney is often the prosecutor who makes the call to press charges in criminal cases, following a review of the police’s investigative report. Sometimes, individuals who reported a crime may have a change of heart and wish to “drop” the case. Many people believe that victims can just decide not to pursue criminal charges whenever they want and have asked “Can a victim talk to the District Attorney to drop charges?”

Victims are allowed to talk to the DA or other prosecutors and request that criminal charges be dropped. The DA may take the victim’s wishes into consideration, particularly if the case is less serious or the victim’s cooperation is necessary for successful prosecution.2

However, once a crime has been reported, the alleged crime becomes a matter of the state and jurisdiction where it was committed. The court system has a duty to the community to see justice done in the case.

Is It Worth Pressing Charges for Assault?

It is not unusual for victims to feel daunted by the process of filing police reports or complaints against their aggressors, and some may even wonder “Is it worth pressing charges for assault?”

Any individual who has been assaulted can and should report it to the police, particularly if the assault resulted in physical injury. Accusations of assault are taken seriously by law enforcement, and the individual reporting the crime can anticipate a thorough investigation. Though the victim cannot press charges themselves, filing a police report creates an official record of the incident for future use, as well.27

Another option available to the victim is to pursue a protective order (EPO, DVO) against the aggressor. It may also allay any fears they have regarding retribution after filing a police report.17

What Happens if I Don’t Press Charges for Domestic Violence?

Victims of domestic violence often find themselves in a tough spot of wanting the situation they are in to change but not wanting their partner to face criminal charges. They may even be asking “What happens if I don’t press charges for domestic violence?” when someone else intervenes to make a police report.

Screenshot of Delaware Government website page for Domestic Violence Coordinating Council with yellow arrow pointing to definition and scope of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council in Delaware can help victims file complaints or restraining and protection orders.

Victims do not get to choose whether to press charges. In domestic violence cases, it is not uncommon for police reports to be made by someone other than the victim, such as a concerned family member or neighbor. In this situation, the victim does not even need to file a complaint at all, as the complaint is lodged by a third party.

If the police reviewing the details of the report feel that there are grounds to pursue an investigation, they will do so, with or without the victim’s cooperation.24 It is easier for an attorney to prosecute a criminal case with the victim’s cooperation, but sometimes, prosecutors must make the decision to proceed without the victim’s approval, especially in cases where the victim may be acting from a place of fear in a domestic violence case.26

What Happens if You File a Police Report but Don’t Press Charges?

Filing a police report is the first step in initiating a criminal investigation, and many people believe that they can file a police report and then make a choice not to press charges. They may even be wondering what happens if you file a police report but don’t press charges.

Screenshot of NYPD website page for victims of crime with yellow arrow on how to report a crime to NYPD.

Anyone, regardless of age or immigration status can report crimes they’ve witnessed.

Interestingly, individuals are not the ones who generally press charges. They can file criminal complaints or police reports. However, once a police report or complaint has been filed, the crime and situation are out of the individual’s hands and in the hands of law enforcement.

Then, the police have to decide how to proceed in the case and whether to pursue an investigation. Usually, a prosecutor reviews the investigative report to determine whether charges should be filed.4,26

In some instances, individuals may wish to withdraw a police report, and while this is often possible, it provides no guarantee that charges will not be filed.26

Can You Press Charges After Dropping Them?

Many people have asked “Can you press charges after dropping them?” and while it’s understandable that circumstances and feelings can change, the legal process leaves little room for vacillation where crimes are concerned.

Contrary to what many people think, victims are not in control of the decisions to press or drop charges.16,29 If a victim of a crime files a police report, they have the ability to recant or withdraw their statement at a later time. However, once the crime has been reported, the ball starts rolling in the legal process, and the victim does not get to decide whether charges will be pressed.30

If individual attempts to file a new police report for the same crime after recanting the previous statement, it is less likely to be taken seriously as the police have cause to doubt the reliability of the reporter. Also note that crimes are harder to investigate as time passes, so the job becomes more difficult for law enforcement.

Although individuals are not able to press charges, they are able to file police reports which may or may not contain proof that a crime occurred. The police make the determination to investigate, and the prosecutor decides whether to press charges.

Proof is a broad category, and it is possible for someone to face criminal charges without physical proof. Anyone asking the question, can someone press charges without proof, can get a criminal record check now to discover whether criminal charges have been brought against them.


References

1Arnold & Smith PLLC. (2022). Can I be Arrested Without Evidence Against Me? Arnold & Smith PLLC. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from <https://www.arnoldsmithlaw.com/can-i-be-arrested-without-evidence-against-me.html>

2Baldani Law Group. (2022). How to Convince a Prosecutor to Drop Charges. Baldani Law Group. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from <https://baldanilaw.com/convince-prosecutor-drop-charges/>

3Bangerter Law Office. (2022). How Long Does a Police Investigation Take? Bangerter Law Office. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from <https://bangerterlaw.com/how-long-does-a-police-investigation-take>

4County of Lancaster. (2022). Private Criminal Complaints. Lancaster County Office of the District Attorney. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from <https://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/518/Private-Criminal-Complaints>

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26Quora. (2020). What Does It Mean if You Fiel a Report But Don’t Press Charges, But the Police go and “Informally” Investigate Anyway? Quora. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from <https://www.quora.com/What-does-it-mean-if-you-file-a-report-but-don-t-press-charges-but-the-police-go-and-informally-investigate-anyway>

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