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.
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.