Victims of criminal cases in Massachusetts, particularly domestic violence cases, do not have the power to dismiss or drop cases, only district attorney has the authority to dismiss or drop a case. Each county in Massachusetts is represented by a different district attorney. Each district attorney has a different protocol with regard to domestic violence cases. In some counties the district attorney will never force a victim to testify in a case. In other counties the victims are forced to testify. If the victim does not want to testify and so notifies the district attorney in those counties where the district attorney will not force a victim to testify, the district attorney will acknowledge that the case has to be dismissed as they have no evidence to present to the court. In those counties were the district attorney forces the victim to testify, the victim either must testify or assert some right or privilege to avoid testimony. There are two primary rights that are often asserted in these types of domestic violence cases. One is the right against self-incrimination, the Fifth Amendment right. If the victim is concerned that he or she could be charged with a crime because of his or her testimony, the victim can assert his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The district attorney cannot force the victim to testify if the court accepts the victim's Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. If the victim is married to the defendant in the domestic violence case, the victim can assert his or her marital privilege, that is, the privilege not to testify against your spouse. The district attorney cannot override this privilege. In the ideal situation, if the victim intends to assert either the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or the marital privilege, the victim should have independent representation by an attorney. The victim then has a voice in the court room asserting his or her position in the case.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts