There are a number of reasons and scenarios whereby an assault charge could be dropped by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). If you are involved in a police investigation relating to one of the degrees of assault, then it is vital to understand how and why these charges could be dropped. It is important to understand that it is not for a complainant to “drop” the allegations. The decision about whether a case is dropped is one that is taken by the police or CPS, often in conjunction and having taken into account a range of views, including those being expressed by the original complainant.

It is important to note that dropped charges and an acquittal by not guilty verdict are two very different things. Dropped charges occur when either the police cannot compile enough evidence whereby there is a realistic prospect of a conviction, or the CPS deems a case to not be in the interests of justice to pursue.

The prospect of an assault charge being dropped is a goal for many accused individuals, one which may provide a huge source of relief. However, the process behind charges being dropped isn’t straightforward. Whilst it does sometimes require the cooperation of the accused person, the amount and type of cooperation can be a careful tactical balance, weighing up the advantages of cooperating and disclosing matters to the investigating team as opposed to the disadvantages of possibly giving information which may actually strengthen as case against the accused person. To cooperate effectively whilst protecting your rights, it is recommended that the accused individual seeks expert legal advice as soon as possible, which will heighten the chance of a positive outcome being achieved.

Why are assault charges dropped?

Assault charges can be dropped for a number of different reasons, below are just three of the most common reasons cited for charges being dropped by police or the CPS:

1. Lack of sufficient evidence

A common reason for dropping assault charges is a lack of sufficient evidence. Every case will be different, but many assault cases are reliant on witnesses and statements to provide a basis for prosecuting the accused individual, whereby on an objective review of the evidence allows a prosecutor to conclude that there is a realistic prospect of a conviction if the evidence in those witness statements is believed. If there is not a realistic prospect of a conviction, because the evidence is undermined or because it is discredited, the case may be dropped because a lack of sufficiently credible evidence. .

However, if there is sufficient evidence, during trial it is possible that the evidence can be found to be flawed, which will result in the charges being dropped even very late in the day.

2. Withdrawn witness statements

As many assault charges are based on witnesses and statements, if a witness withdraws their statements this can impact the value of evidence. However, the mere withdrawing of support by a complainant or witness is not the same as that witness or complainant saying that they have lied. If a witness or complainant admits to lying they are admitting to making a false statement, which in turn can mean that the witness may be arrested and prosecuted for perverting the course of justice, which is in itself a very serious offence.

If it is the case of a witness or complainant withdrawing their support, the reasons for this will be carefully looked at by the police, in part to make sure that no undue force or influence has been applied to the person.  

Also, if a witness or complainant fails to turn up to court, charges can also be dropped, particularly where cases are reliant on victim statements to secure a conviction.

The CPS and police do not act as lawyers for victims, but it is at their discretion to continue a case or submit summons, which will oblige a victim to attend the Court date. It is also important to note that there are serious offences of interfering with complainants or witnesses – for example requesting they withdraw statements – could be seen to indicate a higher level of blame and show a lack of remorse, potentially increasing the potential severity of punishment. If there is any suggestion that a witness has been intimidated to withdraw their statement, it is very likely that the person/ people involved would be arrested and face further and more serious charges.

3. The decision to take the offence to court is not in victim’s interest

In 2012, one in ten criminal cases were dropped after the police made a charge. The two tests which determine whether a case should be dropped or brought to court involve the existence of substantial evidence and the pursuit of conviction if it is in the public interest.

The more severe the charges are, then the more likely the case will continue to Court, this means if an offence is for aggravated common assault, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm, then the case is likely to be continued.

Who decides to drop assault charges?

The decision to drop an assault charge can be instigated by a number of parties who are involved in an investigation or criminal charge. Most often these decisions are made by the police themselves or investigating authorities.

However, the CPS can decide to drop charges at the latter stages of police enquiries, or charges can be dropped at early stages of police enquiry directly sourcing from influence of the complainant (the victim). It is also possible for the CPS to discontinue a case when it has already come to court. It may take place when further evidence has come to light that undermines the original allegation.

When are assault charges dropped?

Assault charges can be dropped during initial enquiries, at police investigation stage or at the conclusion of a police investigation or even in court as was mentioned above. Most commonly this occurs at either end of an investigation, this can be due to the failing of the two tests which applied when determining whether a case should be charged.

Even if the police decide to charge an individual, these charges can be dropped if the case fails to meet the standards required in evidence to pursue a criminal conviction due to further information or evidence coming to light. If insufficient evidence is found, or evidence does not provide a realistic prospect of conviction, then police may decide to drop the case. If there is sufficient evidence, then the second test will be considered.

The second test, the public interest test, assesses whether it is in the interest of society that a case is followed-up to the Court. Typically, the more severe the case the more likely it is to pass this test. Often the interests of the victim are considered in this decision, with views taken by the victim’s family or complainant(s) themselves.

Can an assault charge arise after being dropped?

There is a lot of confusion about what is popularly known as “Double jeopardy” – the law which prevented individuals from being tried for the same crime twice – this was recently removed but only in relation to very serious matters. When a case is deemed serious enough, if new compelling evidence comes to light (that will increase the likelihood of a conviction) then a case can be reopened, reinvestigated and retried. It is important to stress that only criminal offences of a very serious nature will be reopened. The rule regarding double jeopardy would not apply in the vast majority of cases.

If the CPS decide to Discontinue a case due to it not being in the Public Interest or due to a lack of evidence being available, they will normally make it clear when they announce that decision that it is possible for that to be reviewed if new or further evidence comes to light.

Similarly if charges are dropped prior to the conclusion of a police investigation, then a charge could potentially be reopened if the new evidence is deemed of value. This may happen when the results of a forensic examination were not known when the case was dropped but then come to light through ongoing or related investigations.

Will a dropped assault charge be recorded in a criminal record?

The stage at which assault charges are dropped will determine whether the offence is recorded on an individual’s criminal record.

If the charge was dropped after a police charged and a court case had commenced, then it will be recorded by the Criminal Records Bureau, along with record of the arrest.

However, if charges are dropped prior to the conclusion of a police investigation, then a record of the charge will not usually have been made, other than to record the arrest.

Need help with an assault charge?

It’s not always possible to get assault charges dropped, but acting upon the expertise of a specialist assault defence lawyer will best serve you from the moment you are aware a charge could arise.

Defences are often formed around self-defence or other avenues of investigation. An early review by an expert of  the case facts will enable you to form a strong defence case which will be best placed to help you achieve a positive outcome should the charge be taken through to court. Lawtons team of criminal defence solicitors in London are available to represent accused individuals 24-hours a day to protect your rights and help you achieve a positive outcome.