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.
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.
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.