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What is a District Attorney?

District attorneys represent the state's case in criminal trials.
District attorneys consult with law enforcement when they decide if a case should go to trial.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
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A district attorney (DA) is an appointed or elected official who is responsible for prosecuting people accused of crimes in a particular district. Other names, like “commonwealth attorney,” “crown attorney,” or “state's attorney,” are often used to refer to people in similar positions around the world. The responsibilities of this attorney are myriad and quite complex, and he or she is usually supported by a large staff that includes other qualified lawyers, researchers, legal assistants, and so forth.

In many areas, a district attorney also decides whether or not a case will go to trial. For example, law enforcement may present the DA with evidence that strongly suggests that someone is guilty of murder. If the DA thinks that the evidence is strong and it will hold up in court, he or she will charge the suspect and bring him or her to trial, leading the team of prosecutors who attempt to get a conviction.

The district attorney represents the government, working with a variety of other officials. Typically, he or she only works within a particular district, while an attorney general oversees a state or nation, dispatching assistants to prosecute crimes of a more far reaching nature. In the United States, a DA does not prosecute federal crimes; this is reserved for US attorneys, who are federal employees who work in all US states.

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District attorneys also work extensively in victim advocacy, as part of their role as prosecutors. DAs often assist victims of violent crime with getting compensation from victims funds, for example, or they may seek reparations in the process of a criminal trial. In a large office, specific staff members may be in charge of victim services, providing resources which may be useful for victims of crimes.

The DA's office tends to be under a lot of pressure in most regions, with people often holding him or her personally responsible if they feel that justice has not been meted out in a crime. District attorneys also face criticism over plea bargains and other political moves that may seem on the surface to provide unfair deals to criminals. Especially in urban areas, where rates of crime tend to be higher, the DA may be a politician every bit as much as he or she is a lawyer, engaging in a complex dance with a number of agencies and the public in an attempt to keep everyone happy.

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Discuss this Article

anon947368
Post 6

If I got a ticket, will the DA see it?

anon348429
Post 5

My probation officer is saying I cannot see my family after a restraining order is removed, but the DA and the Police Department both say once the order is removed, then I am able to see my family. Who has power over who?

anon310897
Post 4

I need some help. My son was killed almost two years ago and the DA that is working his case is a jerk. During the past year he has lost three murder cases, and I question if he was able to win my son's case. He is very rude, and we do not get along at all and I am the mother. How or what can I do to have him removed from our case altogether? I would really like someone to help me. A worried mom.

anon284054
Post 3

The DA is refusing to enforce a restraining order. How can I force them to do their job in this area? I either want them to enforce the order or I want to sue them for negligence.

anon47189
Post 2

Is it against the law for the district attorney to knowingly keep the chief of police from testifying in a case that will help the defense. Also can the DA keep the chief of police's statment from the defense lawyer?

dudla
Post 1

I know the District Attorneys in Los Angeles County, New York County, and the City of Long Beach (California) are elected every four years. It doesn't seem like there are term limits for these positions like there are for other political offices. Alameda County (California) is the only DA I know that's appointed. I wonder what are some others. And also, are elected or appointed DAs more common in the US?

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