We all watch criminal justice shows like Law & Order and CSI, which involves cops and investigators going after elusive criminals and bringing them to justice. However, in some of these episodes, there are moments where the public prosecutor throws the case and the detective out of their office; with a trademark ‘You can’t touch him/her; he’s too big for you’. While this is just dramatization of a routine occurrence in the field of law and criminology, there are many instances in real life where prosecutors either drop the case altogether or refuse to proceed with the case. So, as an interested onlooker, you might ask: why do prosecutors sometimes don’t prosecute criminal cases?

The simple matter of fact is this: public prosecutors aren’t the most relaxed individuals in the office. As you might expect, however prestigious and career-defining it may be, a public prosecutor is always swamped with cases, files overflowing from the chest in the office and two landline phones constantly ringing on the desk. This isn’t what people picture when they think of a big-shot government bureaucrat, but this is the unfortunate reality for them. You can then understand why prosecutors sometimes choose not to prosecute criminal cases; they simply don’t have the time and the resources to deal with a case. 

However, this isn’t a call for people to start going out and committing petty crimes just to boast ‘I took on the law and won’ or ‘the DA is just a pansy, he wouldn’t contest my case’. Violation of a law is a violation; you might not get to visit a court or experience the thrill of a lock-up, but it still means you’re not in the state’s good books after all; in fact, your criminal record and history has now been permanently added to the national database, which isn’t a very good sign. 

So, what is it that compels prosecutors to not follow through with a complaint, not to go to the court with it or charge the individual with any offence? If they’re not doing that, aren’t they guilty of not doing their job which they’re paid to do? Well, since they are legal experts, they’re also expected to wade through the sea of cases to ensure that only the relevant and important ones go to the court; so as to not waste the court’s time.

So, in a manner, you could say they’re just diligently doing their job when they decide not to charge the drunk 22-year-old with a hit-and-run when he accidentally slammed into a parked car with his bicycle. A case like that isn’t supposed to go to the court. This is one example of why some prosecutors choose not to prosecute criminal cases. Following are explanations and examples of other reasons why prosecutors don’t sometimes prosecute criminal cases.

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Why Do Prosecutors Sometimes Don’t Prosecute Criminal Cases?

As explained beforehand, a trivial or insignificant case which holds no legal value will be the first one to be thrown out of the office, since it isn’t very beneficial to have state resources being wasted on futile cases with no particular takeaway or outcome. Following are several more instances of why do prosecutors sometimes don’t prosecute criminal cases?

  • Case is too Trivial/ Insignificant:

    One of the major reasons why a case or an offense gets thrown out of the prosecutor’s office is that the case or the offense for which the individual has been nominated is too trivial of an offense to be pursued in the court. To explain, consider the example from several lines up. If there is really a 22-year-old who’s crashed his bicycle into a parked car, there is really no need for either of the parties (including the prosecutor) to pursue this case or see to it that the case goes to the court, simply because the case and the offense itself is way too trivial and insignificant to proceed on to the court. Even if the prosecutor thinks that the case could go on to something big, the judge is very likely to throw it out of the court because DUI’s are one thing, but when we put bicycles in the equation and a hammered 22-year-old, which is actually the legal age, there is no need for the court to do anything else other than order the kid to pay up the damage (that should be a couple of bucks, at most). The prosecutor will themselves end the case there and then.

  • Trivial Case Results in Mediation:

    The more trivial the case, the more the prosecutor themselves will try to bring it to a mediation state, rather than letting the issue linger on to develop into something that could be potentially taken to the court. The second reason why prosecutors don’t prosecute a criminal case is because the offense, usually a trivial one, ultimately ends in a mediation between the two parties because it simply isn’t worth all the headache and expenditure to contest the case in the court. As explained beforehand, such cases only serve to vex the judge and the jury and can lead them to believe that their time is being deliberately wasted. Instead, prosecutors themselves try and work out mediation plans and terms between the two parties to stop any court litigation from their sides and instead settle the matter amicably out of the court. 

  • Case could reach a Civil Compromise:

    Usually a case where the defendant is a civil society or even a civil department, the prosecutor’s first mode of action would be to have a settlement proceeding done to ensure that such a chasm does not occur between a civilian and a civil department tor a society. A civil compromise could mean that both parties agree on something, give up each of their demands and have some of them accepted and work amicably towards the resolution of the dispute. This is also an example of an instance where prosecutors do not pursue a criminal case and submit it to the court for further judgement; their first attempt is to get the parties to negotiate and settle on a point. If not, the second mode of action would be to get the parties to reach a civil compromise, one that solves the case and prevents it from going to the court. 

  • Defendant’s Rights were Obstructed:

    Another really tricky part where a prosecutor could be forced to not pursue a criminal case would be that of an instance where a defendant could have been wronged by the law enforcement agencies responsible for collection of proof and apprehending the person. For example, to put it in a language more understandable, suppose a person, who has consumed cannabis (marijuana) in his house, gets arrested after their front door is kicked in and officers enter the premise without a warrant. While the individual is at fault (technically), the prosecutor will have an additional headache to face with the police’s actions; to which, they can easily respond by dropping the matter entirely and allowing for the defendant to go without a trial. Because the people have certain rights which include the right to privacy, and since this was obstructed by a state department, the prosecutor will have two choices; either drop the criminal case and don’t pursue it or stand in the court and explain to the jury why the police felt confident enough to break down the door of a presumably innocent man without a warrant and forcibly arrest him, which could be counter-productive. So, long story short, the prosecutor does not prosecute the criminal case.

  • Victims asks for ‘No Charges Filed’ and Refuses Cooperation:

    This one is a bit convoluted, since the law does not essentially empower the victim to decide whether charges have to be filed or not; this is still at the discretion of the prosecutor. However, the law does allow for the victim to state that he/ she does not want to file charges and should the prosecutor follow through with it, they can legally refuse to cooperate with the prosecution, doing away with the most important part of the prosecution’s argument. For example, if the victim of a relatively harmless crime is a friend or a family member (or a really kind stranger), they can refuse cooperation and file no charges against the offender, which could cause the prosecutor to not prosecute the criminal case any further.

  • Prosecutor Accepts a Verbal Apology/ Plans Something Bigger:

    The fact that a prosecutor plans something bigger from a minor infraction could tell you you’re about to get sucked into something that isn’t your cup of tea, but it could get you out of the court without even seeing it and you could avoid jail time. For more lax crimes, the prosecutor could ask for a written or verbal apology, which would be made the basis for the DA’s office dropping the entire matter. Or, in dire situations, where the prosecutor thinks they might be able to use you to take down something bigger, they could ask to commute your sentence or drop the matter altogether should you be willing to testify against another person. Whatever gets you out, is the same reason why prosecutors sometimes don’t prosecute criminal cases.