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  • David A. Cmelik Law PLC

Cedar Rapids Criminal Lawyer: No such thing as "pressing charges" in Iowa

Female police officer
The misperception that individual crime victims can steer the prosecution is both common and understandable. First, officers themselves sometimes feed the myth by asking a victim if they want to "press charges." However, law enforcement officers and prosecutors make the decisions to determine the need for an arrest and prosecution, not crime victims. Crime victims have very specific rights in Iowa and they do not include dropping nor pressing charges.

In 2020, it's more important than ever to understand who drives the prosecution.

Police and television contribute to the misconception that so-called victims are in charge. They are not. Police who see crime are obligated to make arrests. Prosecutors may use their considerable discretion, training, and expertise to craft indictments or refrain from doing so.

Nevertheless, just as I did the first year I practiced law, I hear nearly every week that a witness will or will not likely "press charges."

In short, victims are mere witnesses in a prosecution that is entitled “State of Iowa vs. John Q. Public,” Not “Crime Victim vs. John Q. Public,” and so the decision to offer concessions begins with police officers and travels up the chain to prosecutors who must use their legal talents to determine if the facts of an investigation meet the definition of a crime under Iowa law.

Prosecutors may use their considerable discretion to craft plea agreements or choose not to file charges where evidence is weak and may take into consideration the wishes of alleged victims.

Where a prosecutor disagrees with a crime victim, they may do as they see fit. Often a letter of support by a crime victim will say, “I don’t want to press charges” but this decision is not up to the alleged victim.

That’s why it is still mind boggling to me that I hear witnesses and defendants say, “well, the officer asked whether I wanted to press charges.” This phrase has no place in Iowa law. It is merely the officer attempting to gauge whether the fallout of leaving without making an arrest will satisfy a potential crime victim. In that way, the officer has empowered the crime victim without specific authority to do so, or perhaps does not want to make an arrest if the facts are on the edge of what may be acceptable to a prosecutor and a judge.

In domestic assaults, an officer has a duty to make an arrest if they ascertain that their has been such an assault, determine who the primary aggressor is, and then make that arrest. Even so, I have heard the same “press charges” commentary in domestic situations. I wasn’t there so I don’t know if it really happened but I’ve heard it frequently enough that I believe it to be so. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Anamosa, Vinton, Marengo, or other Iowa cities, as well as Linn, Johnson, Benton, Jones, Iowa, or other counties, please contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889, for a free initial consultation. A blog is not legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading a blog or by sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet.

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