What Does a County Prosecutor Do?
A county prosecutor works for his or her local government in the United States and is either elected or appointed to that position. While there are similar jobs in other countries, such as a Crown attorney in Canada and chief prosecutor in France, a county attorney is specific to the US. He or she typically prosecutes felony cases in the county for which he or she works, and may prosecute juvenile cases. This person will also typically handle trying a case in a court or settling the case outside of the court. In some jurisdictions, the county prosecutor provides legal advice to the local government and its employees, although he or she is not typically allowed to provide personal legal advice.
In most jurisdictions, a county prosecutor is elected by the citizens of the county. There is typically no term limit, although an incumbent prosecutor does have to win subsequent elections after his or her appointment. In some jurisdictions, this position is appointed to a lawyer by the local government, although this is less common than elections.
The primary job of this type of lawyer is to prosecute citizens of the county who are believed to have broken the local laws. He or she will typically decide which cases will go before a judge, and work with local law enforcement to gather evidence and try cases against a citizen. In most instances, the county prosecutor handles all felony cases in the county for which he or she works, and, in smaller counties, he or she may handle all legal cases. Even if he or she does not try smaller legal cases, he or she may prosecute most or all juvenile cases, which include any charges against a minor citizen in his or her county. In most jurisdictions, this includes cases against people under the age of 18.
A county prosecutor typically determines whether charges are pressed against an individual based on evidence collected by local law enforcement. The prosecutor will then work with the local government and the citizen’s attorney to determine whether the case will go to trial or be settled outside of court. If the case is brought to trial, the county prosecutor will collect and present evidence against the defendant, or individual accused of breaking any laws, to a judge or jury.
It is also common for a county prosecutor to provide legal advice and services for his or her local government. This includes providing guidance to departments in the county, employees of the departments, and government officials in any matter that involves the person’s work in the county. Despite this, a county prosecutor does not typically provide any type of legal counsel on personal matters, even if the individual works for the county, although they will typically provide some advice to potential witnesses, defendants, and their families. In most jurisdictions, a prosecutor who works for the county cannot practice law privately while he or she holds office.
Ask any criminal lawyer in the United States and they will tell you -- a prosecutor's office is only as effective as the prosecutor and the deputies he or she hires. Some jurisdictions have sloppy offices where cases are filed in spite of the expiration of the statute of limitations, charges that should have never been filed at all and people dragged into court and never charged for want of evidence.
A good prosecutor, on the other hand, runs an office where people who are charged are found guilty 90 percent of the time or more. Defense lawyers might love those sloppy prosecutors because of the boosted win-loss ratio, but justice is better served with a prosecutor who knows what he or she is doing. Sadly, voters rarely seem interested enough to get rid of the bad ones and keep the good ones.
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