The district attorney (DA), in many jurisdictions in the United States, represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney - an elected or appointed official - is the highest officeholder in the legal department of the jurisdiction – generally the county in the U.S. – and supervises a staff of assistant (ADA) or deputy district attorneys. Depending on the system in place, district attorneys may be appointed by the chief executive of the region or elected by the voters of the jurisdiction.
History and role
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789, Section 35, provided for the appointment of a person in each judicial district to prosecute federal crimes and to represent the United States in all civil actions to which it was a party. Initially, there were 13 districts to cover the 11 States that had by that time ratified the constitution. Each State was a district, except for Massachusetts and Virginia which formed two. Districts were added when additional States were admitted. The statute did not confer a title upon these local agents of federal authority, but subsequent statutes and court decisions referred to them most frequently as “district attorneys.” In 1948, the Judicial Code adopted the term “United States attorneys.”
This term for a prosecutor originates with the traditional use of the term "district" for multi-county prosecutorial jurisdictions in several U.S. states. For example, New York appointed prosecutors to multi-county districts prior to 1813. Even after those states broke up such districts and started appointing or electing prosecutors for individual counties, they continued to use the title "district attorney" for the most senior prosecutor in a county rather than switch to "county attorney."
An executive assistant district attorney (EADA), chief assistant district attorney (CADA), or first assistant district attorney is a title given the senior-most manager in a prosecutor's office under the district attorney. The people who hold these titles are generally considered the second-in-command for the office, and usually report directly to the head prosecutor. The exact roles and job assignments for each title vary with each individual office, but generally include management of the daily activities and supervision of specialized divisions within the office. Often, the EADA may oversee or prosecute some of the larger crimes within the jurisdiction. In some offices the executive assistant district attorney has the responsibility of hiring lawyers and other staff members. Often, the EADA supervises press-releases and oversees the work of the office staff.
At the local level in other jurisdictions officers carry out functions similar to those performed by a district attorney; such officers as the commonwealth's attorney, state's attorney, county attorney, circuit solicitor, or county prosecutor.
In the United Kingdom, positions equivalent to a district attorney are the chief Crown prosecutors (or Crown prosecutors in the case of deputy or assistant district attorneys) of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. In many other countries, the title of the chief prosecuting officer is Director of Public Prosecutions.
- National District Attorneys Association website
- Prosecuting Attorneys, District Attorneys, Attorneys General & US Attorneys on the Web—indexes prosecutor web sites throughout the USA and other countries