Prosecuting Attorney

Prosecuting Attorney in the United States

Attorney who represents the state in prosecuting those accused of criminal conduct. In some jurisdictions, the prosecuting attorney is called the district attorney or the state’s attorney. Federal prosecutors are called United States Attorneys. Prosecuting attorneys in the states are usually elected at the county level to terms of four years and are structurally at the center of the criminal process. In most jurisdictions, prosecutors stand between police agencies and the courts. Cases come in from the various law enforcement agencies and are screened by the prosecutors. Only those cases deemed worthy by the prosecuting attorney are placed into the courts. Neither victims nor the police may directly initiate criminal cases in most American jurisdictions. The prosecuting attorney retains control of all cases in which charges are formally lodged. Almost every state has an independently elected prosecuting attorney for each of its counties. The performance of these county prosecutors is not supervised from the state level. In most states, the state attorney general has no control over county prosecutors and often has very limited power to initiate criminal pros-ecutions. This means that policy decisions of local prosecutors will govern in their respective counties, and there is no mechanism requiring their policies or operating priorities to be uniform. The prosecuting attorney’s office also acts as civil counsel for most counties.

See Also

Courtroom Work Group (Judicial Personnel issue) Defense Attorney (Judicial Personnel issue) Prosecutorial Function (Judicial Personnel issue) State Attorney General (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The prosecuting attorney may be the most powerful participant in the criminal justice process. The prosecuting attorney possesses substantial discretion from beginning to end of the process, and to a large extent determines who is charged, the substance of plea agreements, and the nature of sentences. The great power of prosecutors stems from their central position in the process. The discretion of the prosecutor bridges every stage of the justice system. To start, the prosecutor’s office screens all incoming cases to determine whether to charge and, if so, with what specific offense. Often these charging judgments drive the negotiation process, which yields agreements in upwards of 90 percent of criminal cases. The prosecuting attorney also makes recommendations on pretrial release and sentence that are often followed by the courts. As elected officials, county prosecutors are influenced by their perception of public sentiment, and enforcement priorities are often based on these perceptions. This is especially true if the prosecuting attorney has political ambitions and wishes to use the office as a stepping stone to higher office.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Prosecuting Attorney from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Prosecuting Attorney Definition

District Attorney (Da), Prosecutor in this Legal Encyclopedia
District Attorney (Da), Prosecutor definition in the Law Dictionary

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Prosecuting Attorney

Introduction to Prosecuting Attorney

Prosecuting Attorney, lawyer empowered by appointment or election to secure indictments and obtain judgments against suspected criminals.” (1)

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Guide to Prosecuting Attorney

Prosecuting Attorney: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

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State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Prosecuting Attorney and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Prosecuting Attorney. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Prosecuting Attorney should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

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