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Toronto Criminal Lawyer Mark Zinck

How to Get Criminal Charges Dropped, Toronto

In Ontario, Crown Prosecutors have the power to drop charges against the accused in criminal matters. Toronto criminal lawyers are normally able to get charges dropped for three main reasons:

1) there is a lack of evidence or uncooperative witness;
2) as part of bargaining a guilty plea;
3) for technicalities.

Getting Domestic Charges Dropped

Since it is so easy to be charged with a domestic crime, many spouses are under the false belief that they have the power to have the charges against their husband, wife, or significant other dropped by requesting it from the Crown or Police.

Once a person is formally charged, the matter is controlled by the Provincial Crown Attorney. Most Crown Attorneys will not drop domestic assault charges against an accused simply because the victim asks them to drop the charge. If there is a statement from the victim on file that is evidence of a crime, the matter will likely proceed, despite the victim not wanting it to.

The misconception that the accuser controls the charge is based on the inaccurate belief that the victim is the one who "presses charges" against the accused. People will say things like "I pressed charges against my husband for assault". In reality, they accused their husband of assault and their husband was charged by the Crown Attorney as a result of their accusation.

It is the objective of the Crown Attorney to prosecute crime on behalf of the public. If someone assaults their spouse or significant other, the main issue is not whether the victim wants the accused punished, but what is appropriate from a public policy standpoint. While getting domestic charges dropped is not generally easy, in some instances it may be possible to bargain with the crown to drop the charges in exchange for the defendant agreeing to sign a peace bond with the victim.

Please note: Minor Domestic Charges of assault, mischief, and threats are currently a focused area of practice for attorney Mark Zinck, please see:

Uncooperative Witness/Victim Testimony

While the victim does not control whether the charges against the accused will proceed or not, the Crown may drop the charges if they believe the victim is going to be highly uncooperative in giving testimony. If the only evidence the Crown has is the testimony of the victim, they may feel they don't have enough evidence to prosecute if the victim is uncooperative.

Uncooperative victims are common in domestic charges. After the heat of the argument cools off, and the significant effects of the charge and undertaking are realized, many couples want to get back together and have their lives return to normal. As a result, victims will request charges be dropped and upon learning that they won't be, become uncooperative witnesses.

It should be noted that an uncooperative victim as a witness does not necessary mean there can't be a conviction. In cases involving violence, the victim can usually still be compelled (forced) to testify against the accused under oath via subpoena. Technically, the victim is required to tell the truth on the stand or risk being charged themselves with perjury. If a victim gets on the stand and claims they "don't remember" anything, it can be very hard to convict the accused.

Also, if the victim makes inconsistent statements on the stand regarding the charges, the Crown can introduce the prior inconsistent statements given to the police to contradict them.

In instances where there has been a preliminary inquiry, the testimony that is given by the victim at the prelim can also be used at trial against an uncooperative witness.

The Crown thus has options in dealing with an uncooperative victim and can still prosecute matters without the victim's consent. It is common in domestic cases of assault or threats for victims to later ask for charges to be dropped. Given the high propensity of these requests, and the potential for victims to falsely recant (given their close relationship to the accused), Crown attorneys are usually very reluctant to drop charges in domestic matters (even if their only evidence is the testimony of the victim).

Bargaining the Dropping of Charges

Accused persons, either represented by lawyers or on their own, can also bargain with the Crown to have charges dropped. The dropping of some of the charges is common in matters where a guilty plea is being entered. Of course, this is only an option when an accused is charged with numerous offenses or several counts of the same offense.

Sometimes Crown Attorneys will "read in" the facts of the dropped charge into the charge that is being pled guilty to. For instance, if the accused is charged with assault and threats and is willing to plead guilty to the assault charge, the Crown may drop the threats charge, but read into court as part of the facts of the assault that the accused stated "I'm going to kill you".

Multiple Counts Arising from the Same Incident

Sometimes an accused is charged with several counts of a breach of undertaking along with an assault or threats charge. If they simultaneously breach numerous elements of an undertaking, each breech is a separate charge.

For example, if an accused is required by the undertaking to stay away from his wife and home and avoid alcohol is charged with assaulting his wife again at the family residence, he could acquire 5 charges as a result of one incident:

Charge 1: Assault;
Charge 2: failure to keep peace and be of good behaviour;
Charge 3: failure to avoid contact with a specific person;
Charge 4: failure to abide by condition of avoiding alcohol;
Charge 5: failure to avoid attending family residence.

At court, in exchange for a guilty plea on the assault and one count of the breeches, the Crown may agree to drop the other 3 breech charges. These types of deals are common.

Charges Dropped because of a Technicality

Sometimes charges are dropped by the Crown when a technical issue makes it inappropriate or unconstitutional to proceed. Technicalities are unpredictable and thus sometimes it makes sense to plead not guilty on the chance that something will go wrong with the case. Common technical reasons include Charter breeches such as failure to proceed to trial within a reasonable amount of time, and failure to fully disclose all evidence.

Police make mistakes. When the police destroy important evidence or fail to provide it to the prosecution in a timely matter, this can effect the ability to prosecute. As an accused, you have a right to all disclosure in advance of the trial. Sometimes it is discovered that not all the evidence was disclosed.

Court time is also unpredictable. Sometimes matters get delayed or scheduled too far into the future. As an accused person, you have a right to a trial within a reasonable time and thus are sometimes able to get off for delay of trial.

You may also wind up having your case dropped because a witness dies, recants their story, or is otherwise unable to testify against you.

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