Do I have to go to court on a criminal charge if the other party does not want to press charges?
The bottom line: Yes. The District Attorney’s office decides whether to prosecute someone for a crime; it is not up to a private individual to “press charges.” If you do not show up for court, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This means you will have an additional criminal charge of “failure to appear.”
The concept of “pressing charges” is popular on TV police shows, but in real life, it is not up to an individual to decide whether to pursue a criminal charge after an arrest has been made. The D.A.’s office decides that.
Let’s look at a domestic violence allegation as an example. Sometimes a person who calls the police and alleges domestic violence later has a change of heart and tells the police that she does not want to press charges. In Tennessee, the police will almost always make an arrest if there is probable cause that a domestic assault law has been broken. (In a future post, I will explain what “probable cause” means and the arrest process.)
An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) will review the police report and the arrest warrant and speak with the alleged victim to determine whether to proceed with prosecution. Based on the available information, if the ADA believes a crime has been committed and that there is enough evidence, the ADA will proceed with prosecution.