What does an Assistant State's Attorney do?

Jeany Miller

Criminal prosecution is often a lengthy procedure undertaken by multiple members of law enforcement. One such member is likely to be the assistant state’s attorney, who works in the state attorney’s office to conduct litigation work. Specific duties for this position are often assigned by the state’s attorney and may include conducting research, taking statements from witnesses and trying cases. Some assistant attorneys work in specific bureaus, such as those devoted to juvenile justice, or specific divisions that relate to one area of crime. In offices where crime is prolific, attorneys may be assigned titles that denote their responsibilities, such as senior or first assistant.

An assistant state’s attorney must work on multiple cases at once while ensuring that his office runs smoothly.
An assistant state’s attorney must work on multiple cases at once while ensuring that his office runs smoothly.

A state’s attorney is an elected official who coordinates investigations for his or her district. Such a district may be delineated by county boundaries or judicial mandates. Sometimes referred to as a city or district attorney, a state’s attorney routinely represents the people in criminal and civil proceedings. He or she often prosecutes charged criminals and acts as the head law enforcement official for a jurisdiction. In this manner, the state attorney’s office works to safeguard the public’s interest.

Trying cases and taking statements from witnesses are primary roles of an assistant state's attorney.
Trying cases and taking statements from witnesses are primary roles of an assistant state's attorney.

Voters often hold a state’s attorney accountable for his or her efforts in relation to the area’s political views. As such, each attorney is also given explicit authority to appoint assistant state’s attorneys. These positions often conduct litigation work to ensure equal attention is given to all cases. Many offices contain numerous assistant states’ attorneys who appear in court to try cases, and these individuals are often considered representatives for the entire state’s attorney’s office.

Specific duties for the assistant state’s attorney, also referred to as deputy state’s attorney, may include reviewing evidence and legal precedent, interviewing witnesses and taking depositions and charging suspects with offenses. This position frequently tries cases in court and is likely to be involved with plea bargains, sentencing and appeals hearings. Unlike the state lawyer — who often makes decisions about policy, staff members and office operations — the assistant state’s attorney may also serve as an advocate for victims. Such actions often relate to speaking for minors and those who are deceased.

In many districts, the active caseload between criminal and civil courts may be greater than 500 per week. An assistant state’s attorney thus often works on multiple cases at once to juggle responsibilities and keep the office running smoothly. Some state’s attorney offices may be divided into bureaus that help streamline work and keep relevant cases in their respective departments. Juvenile and special prosecutions, for example, may be separate from standard criminal cases in both their management and trial techniques. Still other bureaus may be devoted solely to civil proceedings, narcotics and internal investigations.

Another way in which attorney’s offices may be managed is by division. Some assistant state’s attorneys may, for example, work specifically on cases involving property or employment crimes. Larger offices may also include specialized units for such offenses as elder abuse, sexual misconduct and domestic violence.

A delegation of responsibilities is also likely to be evidenced in the distinction of titles among assistant state’s attorneys. The senior assistant state’s attorney, for example, may be designated to provide legal direction in those divisions assigned by the state’s attorney. In addition to criminal prosecution for appropriated cases, this senior position may also speak at child safety workshops and conferences, coordinate child support enforcement programs and determine staff work assignments and priorities.

Another position with specific job functions may be that of the first assistant state’s attorney. This person is likely responsible for litigating all major felony cases to assure fairness and successful convictions. Additional duties may be to distribute new cases according to the experience and ability of staff attorneys, coordinate requests for search warrants and formulate trial strategies.

Working at the assistant level often prepares lawyers for future duties in more prestigious positions. In addition to court appearances and conducting legal research, the assistant state’s attorney also often works with law enforcement officials and conducts public outreach. Some districts, for example, require assistants to coordinate with residents, business owners and police task forces to implement programs that manage crime and increase arrests.

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