Victims May Drop Charges

Over Prosecutor's Objection

December 18, 1996

A man is arrested for domestic violence and delivered to the county jail. Within days, the victim is begging to drop charges. Sound familiar?

The Ohio Supreme Court has recently addressed this situation in a manner which creates grave concerns for police and prosecutors. In State v. Busch (October 9, 1996), the high court ruled that a trial judge may dismiss a criminal charge at the victim's request, despite the objection of the prosecutor. Although this new ruling refers to any criminal charge, that particular case involved charges of domestic violence, and it is quite clear that it is directed at the type of situation we have just described.

While this decision may make sense to some people, two dissenting judges of the high court noted that it defies a long history of case law which grants the prosecutor the final decision in filing and dismissing charges. Will this ruling rob prosecutors of the ability to pursue violent offenders if judges are willing to grant the wishes of indecisive victims?

And what about the effect on police officers? Will they be reduced to a "taxi and hotel service" for couples who frequently engage in violent conflicts? Will this decision also provide an incentive for offenders, their families, and their friends to manipulate a victim's determination? At this point, it is too early to tell. Nevertheless, we must recognize one clear effect of this ruling: now more than ever, our prosecutions may be subject to the whim of the accuser!

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