Attorney generals and district attorneys have dramatically different roles.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to explain the differences with ease.
Attorney General vs District Attorney: What’s The Difference?
What is an Attorney General (or THE Attorney General)?
Each state in the United States has an Attorney General.
While state attorney generals must be elected to each term, they can be appointed to the position of the previous attorney general leaves office before the end of the term.
The United States also has an Attorney General.
The nation’s attorney general is nominated by the President of the United States, and then appointed to the position officially by the consent of the United States Senate.
The attorney general is considered the top legal officer of the state or country.
What Does An Attorney General Do?
State attorneys general advise and represent their state’s legislature, state agencies, and the public interests of the citizens of the state.
They are the head of the state’s Department of Justice.
At the state level, the Attorney General officeholder executes most of his duties with the assistance of a team lawyers that may be called deputy or assistant attorneys general.
These duties include:
- representing the state in legal matters (civil or criminal)
- preparing formal opinions to state agencies
- proposing and reviewing written legislation
- investigating and filing lawsuits on behalf of the state
- enforcing environmental laws
- confer with, advise, and direct the district attorneys of the state
- protecting consumers from scams and fraud
The duties and authority of the attorney general in a given state are established by law to provide clear guidelines as to what the office can and cannot do.
What is a District Attorney?
A district attorney is an elected official who is responsible for the prosecution of violations of state law in his territory.
Depending on the state, the territory could be a city, county, or township.
A district attorney could be appointed if the previous district attorney retires or otherwise leaves office before the conclusion of the term.
Otherwise the district attorney is elected.
The primary district attorney utilizes a number of deputy or assistant district attorneys to handle the caseload of a particular territory, depending on the populace and need.
What Does a District Attorney Do?
A district attorney (or his assistant attorneys) are an extremely busy group of people, who regularly:
- review police reports
- make charging decisions
- confer with law enforcement
- appear in court hearings
- direct the investigation of criminal cases
- represent the state in jury trials
- negotiate cases to settlement (plea and sentencing)
- speak with victims and families
- interview witnesses
- review physical evidence
How Are AGs and DAs Different?
AGs and DAs are all lawyers; they all have juris doctors and they are members of the state bar.
However, AG’s handle matters that are more likely to impact the the state as a whole, while DAs handle matters specific to their own territories.
Further, DAs will generally only handle criminal law type matters.
AGs, on the other hand, may handle criminal matters, but they will generally only get involved in the most serious of cases and cases that are of an interest to the public as a whole.
It is more common for the AG’s office to get involved with cases on appeal than when cases are at the trial level .
In addition to high level criminal cases, the AG’s office will also handle civil cases involving the state of all kinds.
While it can be possible for the state’s attorney general to swoop in and handle a local criminal case, it rarely (if ever) happens.
For the most part, there is no need for the AG to come in and handle a relatively low level, low stakes criminal case.
The AG’s office is also heavily involved in legislation and administrative law matters.
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