DC is unique among the jurisdictions in the United States in that there is no district attorney, county attorney, or state’s attorney because the District of Columbia is not a state. For that reason, DC has the country’s largest United States Attorney’s Office.
In other jurisdictions in the United States, the United States Attorney’s Office houses the federal prosecutors who handle cases that proceed in the federal courts. Because DC is not a state, the United States Attorney’s Office handles cases that proceed in the DC Federal Court. They will also handle the vast majority of criminal cases prosecuted in DC Superior Court, which is similar to a state or county court.
Drug offenses in the District of Columbia are prosecuted by federal prosecutors. A federal case is titled the United States v. John Doe; where John Doe is the defendant. It is a very frightening prospect to see that the federal government and the federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges against an individual. In general, federal prosecutors are more qualified, better trained, and more skilled than the average prosecutor at lower level jurisdictions. There are exceptions to that, but in general, a person would expect that the federal prosecutors have more resources and more abilities to go after a person charged with a drug crime and should, therefore, consult with a DC drug lawyer to build a defense.
A drug charge can be dropped right away. As an example, until DC made possession of a small amount of marijuana lawful, cases based on simple possession of marijuana were sent over to the United States Attorney’s Office. Many of those cases were turned down by the US Attorney’s Office. In other words, when someone is arrested, the police put together their paperwork including the police reports. They will send it over to the United States Attorney’s Office to make a decision as to what charges to file and whether to proceed. Many times, the United States Attorney’s Office turned them down if it was not a concrete, airtight situation where a specific person did possess a specific drug.
If there are several people possibly sharing an amount of drugs, a case likely does not proceed. It is also more likely that no charges are filed. The United States Attorney’s Office would opt to not pursue a case when there is simple possession of a small amount of a drug, even though that is against the law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has vast resources, but they do not have limitless resources. Sometimes, based upon the specific facts of a case, the prosecutors may opt to not proceed on a very small quantity of certain drugs.
On the other hand, any time the United States Attorney’s Office believes that an individual who was arrested is involved in the distribution of drugs, that person can expect the prosecutors to proceed with charges and a prosecution against them. However, the government, through the prosecution, can opt to not file the initial charges, or after filing initial charges can decide to dismiss the case on their own accord at any time.
There are many cases where the government decides not to file charges at all or, shortly after filing charges, information comes to light that persuades them to not pursue charges. Even on the day of trial, the government may take a very hard look at the situation and opt to dismiss the matter. It is rarer than choosing not to file in the first place, but it can happen. At any step along the process from arrest through trial, the government can choose to not proceed with a case.
Whenever someone is arrested, their arrest record can be obtained through background searches for information. Until they are formally charged in court, there is not an existing court case. There is no docket or case number. There is only an arrest record with the law enforcement agency. Once a person is charged, that shows up as a pending case against that individual and is a public record. However, it is important to note that DC does not follow the unfortunate example of other jurisdictions that put mug shots and other information on the Internet about every arrest and case filed.
There is no specific website where someone can find an individual’s name who is charged in DC. Unless someone is a famous person or otherwise warrants media coverage, the news of their charges cannot be found online. However, that information is contained inside of the DC Superior Court’s web system. It is publicly available, but an individual has to know where to go and look for it. It does not show up in a simple search online. However, if someone is applying for a job or has an existing job and the employer does a background check, it can easily be found.
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