What does a Prosecuting Attorney do?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A prosecuting attorney is a lawyer who usually works for the government to try criminal cases. His job is to initiate and carry out legal proceedings against a person who has been accused of a crime. On behalf of his national, regional, or local court system, he works to convict criminals or secure other forms of justice. This differs from a defense attorney, who typically has the job of working on behalf of an accused criminal, helping him to avoid conviction or at least seek a lesser penalty.

Prosecuting attorneys, often working for the government, works to convict an individual accused of a crime.
Prosecuting attorneys, often working for the government, works to convict an individual accused of a crime.

In many cases, a prosecuting attorney’s job begins before he’s sure he even has a case that should be heard in court. When a crime has been committed, the prosecutor's office is often involved in the investigation from the start. For example, he is often responsible for contacting an investigation agency that can collect and provide pertinent case information; he typically works with police as well. With the help of investigators, he may be able to determine whether or not the case is valid. He may also talk to witnesses and those involved in the crime.

A prosecuting attorney often decides the charge for which a criminal will stand trial.
A prosecuting attorney often decides the charge for which a criminal will stand trial.

If the attorney decides there is a valid case and a party or group of people is charged, he has the job of pursuing a conviction. He works to convince a judge or jury that the charged party is guilty of the crime. An individual in this position may only use legal means to do this, however. For example, he may use evidence, testimony, and research to build his case. In most places, threats and coercion tactics are not allowed.

A prosecuting attorney often decides the charge for which the criminal will stand trial. For example, if a person has died, the prosecutor is typically responsible for determining whether the accused party will stand trial for murder, manslaughter, or some other charge. He may also decide what degree of charge the person will stand trial for. This can greatly influence the penalty a convicted person is likely to receive, since those of lesser degrees may carry lighter sentences.

Though a prosecutor is supposed to see that justice is served and work toward a conviction, he may bargain with accused criminals and their lawyers in some cases. For example, he may negotiate a lighter sentence or less serious charge for a suspect in exchange for a guilty plea. In such a case, the idea may be to secure a definite conviction instead of taking the chance that a judge or jury may not convict the criminal. With this type of bargain, the attorney may seek to ensure that a criminal receives at least some punishment.

In most places, a person who wants to become a prosecuting attorney has to finish high school and go on to college, earning a bachelor's degree. He then completes about four years of law school in preparation for this job. An aspiring prosecutor usually has to pass a legal exam or series of exams in order to become a practicing attorney. Seeking an internship or entry-level position in a prosecutor's office may help a person get on the right track for pursuing this career. In many places, lead prosecutors are appointed or elected to the job; their assistants, who are also prosecutors, are often hired employees.

A prosecuting attorney often decides the charge for which a criminal will stand trial.
A prosecuting attorney often decides the charge for which a criminal will stand trial.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


Being a prosecuting attorney, in my opinion, is the best job one could have. Especially if you are really good at it.


All prosecutors are not good people. It takes God to get you through a situation if you are innocent. Definitely, you have to work extremely hard on your case, and the stress that people will put you through is terrible. Even if you have good information (including witnesses) and are educated--they will try to ignore the facts if you lack an attorney! Some treat people like they are dummies. Remember, prosecutors are not your friends. If you are innocent--pleading no contest or guilty should not be an option.

Pleading not guilty is risky--but everyone accepting what they throw at you is not good either. Pray about it--let God tell you what is best! Research valid case law and don't hire a bogus attorney. I am very disappointed in our justice system. People, politicians, etc... engage in prejudice and selfishness. While someone in the justice system is controlling the language and making harsher penalties that hurt innocent people; furthermore, their justice is not a balancing of the scales, but an intrusion into your life and a penalty that hurts your current and future finances.


Law school is traditionally three years. I'm a law student at VT Law, I should know. Four year degrees are for non-traditional students that have other obligations like employment or children.


Yup, organized criminals will threaten, etc., but you have to fight back or they will take over. It's like being in a war or being a soldier. People die to make life better in the future.


@ashleyy: I think that it is possible if you do other stuff, like sports, etc.


Is it legal for a DA to prosecute you if he used to be your attorney? This is in the state of North Carolina.


@anon189274: It's not that they lie. Sometimes, the psychological trauma they go through clouds their judgment and their ability to rationalize and therefore make mistakes, such as choosing the wrong man in a line-up. It's not fair to call them liars; they're simply victims.


Do you think that it is possible for an A and B student to get into Stanford Law School?


@cupcake15: I totally agree with the wrongly accused and innocent people sent to jail because the eyewitness pointed them out, and that was enough for them to send the innocent guy to jail or prison or whatever. All I'm saying is that I agree because witnesses aren't always right. They lie!


@Crispety - I know what you are saying, but I think that most of the prosecutors get into this field because they want to fight for the victims.

In fact if they wanted to make a lot of money they would become criminal defense attorneys and not prosecutors. Some of the best prosecutors were victims themselves. This makes them fight harder for the victim because they know exactly how the victim feels.


@Cupcake15 - The only danger in this job is pursuing a case that should be dismissed. There have been many cases in which people have been wrongly accused of a crime and because an eye witness identified the suspect they get wrongly convicted.

I think that relying on eye witness testimony as the main source of your case is weak because studies have shown that people have very poor memories. I was watching a television program about a man that was wrongly accused of armed robbery and was sentenced to twenty years because he had multiple offenses.

The prosecutor made sure to mention his past criminal history and the fact that the victim identified this man from a lineup which was enough to send him to jail.

This man was released after serving ten years in prison when the real suspect was found. He was 5’7” and the jailed suspect was 6’1”. I think that sometimes a prosecutor will not want to look bad and go along with a conviction so that it will enhance their career.

While I don’t know that this was the situation in this case, it does make me wonder how something like this can happen to an innocent person.


@SauteePan - I am sure that many of them think about it but they try to focus on the case that they have in front of them. I know that the prosecuting attorney duties really make them too busy to think about anything else.

They have to investigate a potential criminal case to see if it has enough merits to proceed with charges. They also prepare plea bargains for criminals charged with lesser offenses or provide special immunity to a defendant in exchange for their testimony in order to continue to build their case.


I think that there has to be an incredible level of satisfaction in working as a county prosecuting attorney. Knowing that you are taking criminals off the street that pose a danger to society has to make you feel good.

Since this is a very high profile position, I often wonder if any of the prosecuting attorneys ever feel vulnerable with regards to their personal safety. After all they do deal with organized crime, gang members, and very psychotic people.

That is really the only thing that sort of scares me about this profession.

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