Most people that get involved with the court system would prefer to work things about between themselves before having to get a judge or a jury involved to decide matters for them. This is the path usually taken by civil litigants (think personal injury or breach of contract cases). Most of these cases usually get settled out of court. The criminal justice system does not typically work the same way – in other words, even if you are accused of a crime, and you and the victim have reconciled and worked things out, you can still be liable for the criminal activity.
That is because that once someone is arrested and the state decides to prosecute, it is up to the state to drop the charges, even if the victim wants to end it. In some states, there are District Attorney’s offices that have a strict ‘no drop’ policy, where the case will not be dropped, ever. In other jurisdictions, the case can be dropped at the request of the victim if they pay a fee to do so – which seems rather unfair to the victim. However, most jurisdictions will usually pay attention and heed what the victim requests, particularly if there is no danger of recidivism (or repeating the crime), or if the crime is minor. Obviously, it is much more difficult for the state to successfully prosecute the crime if the victim is uncooperative or fails to appear in court. But defendants should not rely on this if the state continues prosecution – many cases, such as domestic violence or assault, can introduce other evidence to show the crime occurred, without the victim’s testimony. Things like 911 calls, victim and witness statements to the police, and even the responding officer who witnesses the direct aftermath can be very effective tools of prosecution if the victim fails to cooperate.
Some prosecutors will only drop the case after the defendant has taken affirmative steps, such as counseling, classes (like anger management) or even volunteer work or community service. It all depends upon your jurisdiction, so if you have been accused of a crime and you think the victim does not wish to see you prosecuted, make sure to speak with a local, competent attorney to advise you on the likelihood and procedure of getting this done.
Sometimes, even if a defendant is arrested, charges are not filed to begin with. Sometimes this is because the offense is minor, like possession of trace amounts of marijuana. Sometimes, prosecutors choose not to press charges if there is not enough evidence to support it. Remember, prosecutors are government attorneys, with limited resources. If there is not enough evidence to support pressing charges, it would likely be a waste of time and money for the state to gather evidence to do so. However, this depends upon the severity of the crime in question. Finally, if there was obvious police error, like infringing upon someone’s constitutional rights, the charges probably will also not be brought in the first place.
The defendant’s relationship and settlement with the victim is almost always irrelevant, unless the state also gets involved. Some jurisdictions will allow the defendant to pay money (called restitution) to the victim and avoid a criminal charge; however, in all cases where the defendant avoids a trial, the state is directly involved in negotiations. Always hire an attorney to help advocate for your rights, even if you think you and the victim are on good terms after the fact.