The District Attorney can file criminal domestic violence charges even if the victim does not want to press charges.
I often receive a phone call from a husband or wife arrested for domestic violence charges against their partner, whom they love very much. During a heated argument a neighbor calls the police in regards to the unusual disturbance. The police arrive only to hastily investigate and make an arrest for assault on a spouse, false imprisonment, or inflicting corporal injury on a spouse. On occasion, the spouse a.k.a. "victim" does not want to press criminal charges against the person arrested the night of the incident. Many people do not feel the need for government intervention in their intimate relationship.
Under California law a prosecutor can file criminal charges against a person even if the victim does not want to press charges. That decision is made by a prosecutor after reviewing all the evidence and determining whether a crime occurred and whether it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In the eyes of the law, the defendant committed a crime of violence and the victim is a witness to it. The District Attorney's office is trained to and routinely prosecute cases where the victim is considered a "reluctant witness." The District Attorney refers to a victim as a "recanting witness" when they change their original statement to the police. A domestic violence advocate may even suggest the victim's recant is further evidence of the 'cycle of violence" imposed by the defendant.
Although the victim cannot make the decision of whether or not criminal charges are filed, they are still entitled to many rights that can be explained by an experienced attorney that handles domestic violence cases. A victim of domestic violence that does not want to press criminal charges should always contact an attorney to familiarize themselves with the law and know what options are available to them going forward. Also, they should contact an attorney immediately after an arrest and prior to when the District Attorney makes a decision on whether to file charges. An experienced attorney can speak with the District Attorney making the decision and have an influence on whether charges are filed or not.