Answer: In general, the term “state attorney” is not commonly used, though the term “state’s attorney is.” And the “state’s attorney is often the district attorney, though it can also mean the state attorney general.
Confused? In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
State Attorney vs District Attorney (What’s the Difference?)
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What is a district attorney and who does he represent?
District attorney is the term for the elected official district attorney in a particular territory (usually a county inside a state in the US).
District attorneys are law enforcement officers, and are responsible for handling the court portion of a criminal case once the investigation is completed by law enforcement.
District attorney can also the term for the junior attorney assigned to handle a particular criminal case (could be a deputy district attorney or assistant district attorney).
The office of the district attorney, including the elected district attorney, the deputies, and the assistants, are charged with enforcing the laws of the state.
For this reason, in court, the district attorney is often called “the attorney for the state” or “the state’s attorney.”
What is the attorney general and who does he represent?
Attorney general is the term for the elected official Attorney General in a particular state (in the United States).
Attorney general is also the term for junior attorneys general assigned to handling a particular task of the AG’s office, and may be called deputy or assistant attorney general.
The office of the attorney general, including the elected AG, deputies, and assistants, are charged with enforcing the laws of the state.
However, the attorney general’s office tends to handle things that impact the state as a whole, rather than offenses in a particular county/territory, as district attorneys do.
The AG’s office often handles environmental law violations that impact multiple areas in the state, investigate widespread consumer fraud, and drafting of legislation.
When the state is sued, lawyers from the attorney general’s office represent the state.
In most states, the attorney general is a superior of the district attorney, and can step into the shoes of the district attorney in any particular territory.
The Attorney General is also called “the attorney for the state” and “the state’s attorney.”
Why does the term “state attorney” not make sense?
The term “state attorney” is not widely used to refer to a specific branch of government or a specific type of attorney out side of the courtroom.
The court uses “the state’s attorney” to indicate a different between the government and the defense during the case, though the court could also say “district attorney,” “government’s attorney,” or “prosecutor.”
If someone said they were a “state attorney,” it would not be clear what this attorney did or who he worked for.
To compare “state attorney vs district attorney” is almost impossible without more context.
In general, outside of trial or speaking of a particular case, it is more acceptable to refer to the attorney including the designation of which office he came from (like assistant attorney general, or assistant district attorney).
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