Criminal lawyers are often asked about getting charges dropped because the alleged victim or complainant no longer wishes to go ahead with the charges. Most commonly, we see this in relation to domestic violence charges. A person may wish to withdraw a complaint or statement for a variety of reasons.
When a person facing charges asks their lawyer about it, they will be told things about a ‘conflict of interest’ and obtaining independent advice. This is for a very good reason. Whether a complainant wishes to press on with a complaint or statement cannot be influenced by any other person, especially by the alleged perpetrator.
Obtaining independent advice
Just like the person facing the charges, the complainant has a right to obtain independent advice about their options. Independent means by a lawyer or law firm not associated with the person charged. This isn’t your job to check; every lawyer has an obligation to abide by strict ethical rules and will let you know if they are already owe a duty to the other person.
For similar reasons, police involved in the matter are not the best source of advice. They have a vested interest in the matter and are not lawyers. Instead, you should seek advice from a criminal lawyer who understands the system and can give you honest, independent advice.
Before deciding how you wish to proceed, it is always best to obtain independent advice from a lawyer. They can explain the pros and cons of your options in a clear, honest way without judgment.
How to withdraw a complaint
If you do decide you want to withdraw a complaint, you start the process at a police station or on the Queensland Police Service website.
It is commonly believed that charges will automatically be ‘dropped’ once this happens. However, this is not true. It is always up to police or the prosecution to decide whether the charges will continue. In some cases, they may consider that they have sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to proceed, regardless of the complainant’s wishes.
Police have asked me to give a statement but I don’t want to
This is a fairly common scenario. Sometimes police become aware of an alleged offence through sources other than the victim. However, they will still attempt to obtain a statement from the victim if they saw or heard things which might be relevant.
You do not have an obligation to assist police or provide a statement. Often, if police cannot obtain a statement from a key witness such as victim, they will withdraw the charge due to a lack of evidence.
However, in some situations, police will press on without a statement and obtain a summons or subpoena. These documents are effectively an order from the Court for a witness to attend and give evidence at a trial.
I’ve already given a statement but I want to change or withdraw it
This situation is more complicated. A signed statement for police requires a declaration that the contents are true and accurate. Providing a false statement to police is very serious and can result in offences such as attempting to pervert the course of justice. As such, it is vital to obtain legal advice before giving another version of events to police.
A lawyer will review any statements you’ve already given and can help you clarify your version of events to police or the other party.
If you require any advice about your obligations and options as a witness or victim, please get in touch with us.