Pressing Charges

In Wisconsin when there is a domestic incident and the police are called, someone is going to get arrested. This does not necessarily mean that someone is going to be charged, but it is does typically result in someone being removed from the residence, or area, by the police. Some of these incidents are the result of arguments or disagreements that get out of hand, and typically one of these individuals has been consuming alcohol. Statements are taken from both parties, and based off of that information the police often times take someone into custody.

We have a steady stream of calls for incidents like this, where someone eventually says that they either embellished some facts, or that they flat out lied to the police, and now feel guilty because their significant other or roommate now has pending criminal charges. Many people attempt to contact the State afterwards and say that they do not want to press charges, however the response is not what they expect: nothing happens.

Pressing charges is yet another myth that is perpetuated by movies, books and television, where if an individual declines to press charges, or drops the charges at a later date, the person who was facing the charge, or charges, is now off the hook. Well, sadly ladies and gentlemen, that is not the case in Wisconsin. First off, you should never give any statement to police that is untruthful, that in it self can lead to a criminal charge. Secondly, once you give a statement to police or the district attorneys office, it is out there and impossible to take back.

Why can’t I?

Most people wonder why this doesn’t work the way it does in the movies and the answer is simple: this isn’t a movie. Our statues are written in a way to help protect the public and are constantly evolving. Nowadays, with our growing understanding of patterns of domestic abuse, physical, emotional and mental, our laws have adapted to better and protect our citizens. One of the reasons that an individual cannot press charges is due to the circumstances in which this could be detrimental, for example: Two individuals are in a relationship that has domestic violence and it is continuous over a period of time. If the individual who presses charges is afraid of the response by the individual committing the domestic abuse, they may decline to press charges due to the fear of retaliation by the other party. While this may sound extreme, it is a classic example of domestic abuse. Another reason for this is to prevent people from filing frivolous complaints, or to allow people hold the pending charges over other individuals heads for personal gain. While you may think that this sounds extreme or rare, it is much more common then you would think.

So What Do I Do?

No, you still have several options available to you, but this process is complicated and can be both time consuming and frustrating. One of the most helpful things to do is to hire a defense attorney to help you deal with this issue. The first thing we want to do is to confirm that the individual who no longer wants to press charges, does not in fact want to press charges. If they have given a statement that was false, our office likes to have them meet with a third party, typically a private investigator, to have their statement taken, or have an affidavit drafted and notarized. At this point we contact the district attorneys office and, after presenting them with his information, see how the still view the case. This does not necessarily mean that the case is going to be dismissed, in fact that is not the most likely of circumstances, once the State has charged a case, they typically want to see it resolved. One possible outcome would be to negotiate to a lesser charge or an ordnance violation, such as a disorderly conduct. Other times, the district attorneys office may not be convinced, or believes that they will be able to convict the individual at trial, and thus will continue to move forward. At this point, unless a plea deal can be reached, the only other possibility is going to a trial.

At trial you will need an aggressive attorney to help poke holes in the state’s case and show your side of the story. One of the most important parts will be the testimony of the “victim” in the case and how they present on the stand. A defense attorney will know how to properly prepare the witness, what questions to ask, and how best frame the situation to benefit their client. While there is no guarantee that this will result in an acquittal, it is one of the last options you have to demonstrate your innocence.