What Does a Prosecutor Do?

When a person has been arrested for a crime, the District Attorney’s Office immediately gets notification and all documentation that is available for the case. Since the arrest typically happens before all of the evidence is collected at the crime scene by the police, this can be a very brief report. Once all evidence is collected, the District Attorney’s Office then determines if there is enough evidence to charge the accused with a crime. They also determine what the crime actually is and they set a bail amount for the person who was arrested. This process can take up to twenty four hours but must be done in forty eight hours in most states.  No state can imprison a person without charging them within a specified amount of time that has been set in law by each individual state.

Once the DA has formerly charged a person with a crime, a prosecutor for the city, county or state is then given the case to prepare it for all the steps of the trial process. Depending on the type of the crime, there may be a lead prosecutor as well as a deputy prosecutor who work it. Together they go through all the evidence in the case, set up meetings with witnesses to interview them and gather facts about what happened. They work to build up a sound case against the defendant that will hold up in a court of law.


There are many stages to a criminal case and typically the first hearing is a bond hearing where the judge determines how much bail should be set for the defendant. The next step is a bit more complicated and requires more work for the prosecutor. This is the preliminary hearing where the prosecutor shows their case to the judge to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to go to trial for the crime. This requires witnesses to be called in to give testimony which is also refuted by the defense team in the form of cross examination. Once this process has gone through, the judge will rule on the case and set a date for the next step of the trial process.

The next step is the formal charging of a defendant and where they are allowed to plea guilty or not guilty. There is not much that the prosecutors do except to give the charges to the judge who then asks the defendant what they plea. If the defense team is willing, the next step is pretrial negotiations and this is where many cases get resolved before they even go to trial. If the prosecutors are confident that they can get a judge or jury to side with them, they may refuse any plea offers. A plea typically means the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge which means less jail time in most cases. If a plea deal cannot be arranged then the prosecutors’ real work begins and they begin preparing for a full trial.

A full trial is just like the ones you see on television but they are typically not as dramatic although in some very high profile cases they can be. The prosecution is the first to make their case because they have the job of proving the defendant committed the crime. The defense is simply there to cast a shadow of doubt that would lead to their client’s innocence. It can become a game of cat and mouse but it is very interesting and hard work for the prosecutor. The final outcome is never known until the verdict is read and still the work may not be over if there is an appeal that is made by the defendant at a later date.