What is a Breakdown Request?

A breakdown request is a request made by a defense attorney, often in a written letter, to the attorney prosecuting the case (called the “assistant district attorney” or ADA in Massachusetts). A breakdown letter generally proposes that the charges against the client be dismissed or reduced to less serious ones in exchange for the client’s voluntary agreement to comply with certain conditions. To win the ADA’s agreement, the defense attorney will commonly cite the client’s lack of a serious criminal record; describe the client’s personal strengths and attainments; point out weaknesses in the prosecution's case or policy reasons for the prosecution not to go forward; and finally, raise any mitigating circumstances supporting leniency. Sometimes the breakdown letter will propose a lesser included offense or comparable offense in order to spare a client certain collateral consequences that are particularly objectionable to that client. The breakdown letter usually also proposes that the client voluntarily agree to certain conditions; for example, participation in drug or alcohol testing, an anger-management program or a safe driving class, in exchange for lesser charges.
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