The county attorney is the chief prosecutor for crimes which occur within a county. Prosecution involves bringing charges against a party, trying the case in court and making sentencing recommendations. The county attorney prosecutes felony offenses (crimes which carry a penalty of more than one year in prison). Examples of these crimes include murder, sexual assault, drug offenses and child abuse. Misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, which are less serious crimes, are prosecuted by the county attorney or city attorneys, depending on what the crime is and where the crime happens.
The county attorney is the prosecutor in all cases involving juvenile offenders. These range from curfew violations to the most serious felony criminal behavior. County attorneys oversee diversion programs that allow minor offenders to receive consequences without going to court. These programs are intended to reduce repeat offenses. While a goal of juvenile court is the rehabilitation of offenders, due to public safety concerns, the county attorney may ask the Court to certify a juvenile to stand trial as an adult. Upon conviction, the juvenile could then receive all potential adult sanctions, including a prison sentence.
County attorneys provide assistance and support to the victims and witnesses who play a vital role in the criminal justice system. They advise crime victims of their legal rights and will request restitution for losses suffered.
The county attorney is the legal advisor for the county board of commissioners, county departments and agencies. The county attorney is not authorized to provide civil legal advice to private citizens in his capacity as county attorney. As the legal advisor for the county, the county attorney serves in a role that is similar to that of an in-house corporate counsel. The county attorney provides legal advice to the county board and departments to assist the county in providing many public services, such as waste management, child protection and the protection of vulnerable adults. Other areas of civil advice include defending challenges to property tax values; representing the Human Services Department on welfare appeals; enforcing county land use and zoning, environmental, and health ordinances; and forfeiting property used in connection with criminal activity. Additionally, the county attorney’s office assists the county in buying property; negotiating leases and contracts; and in defending against lawsuits against the county.
The county attorney initiates CHIPS (Child in Need of Protection or Services) petitions to protect abused or neglected children in the county. The county attorney starts legal proceedings to protect the health and safety of vulnerable adults within the county when they are in need of assistance. The county attorney files involuntary commitment actions to provide necessary treatment for individuals who are mentally ill, chemically dependent, or mentally retarded. When a family is receiving public assistance, the county attorney brings actions to obtain or enforce child support obligations, or to establish the paternity of a child in order to obtain reimbursement for assistance or other costs to the taxpayers. Parents not receiving federal or state cash assistance may also apply for and receive these child support enforcement or paternity establishment services from the county at minimal cost.
Pursuing Improvement and Prevention
The county attorney plays an important role in seeking new laws to strengthen law enforcement, criminal justice, child protection, victims’ rights and other areas. The county attorney also participates in efforts to prevent or reduce crime in the local communities and statewide.
Assistants to the County Attorney
The county attorney could not perform the many duties required without assistant county attorneys and other staff members. The county attorney must supervise these assistants, establish policies and guidelines to be used by them, and perform necessary administration to insure that the duties and responsibilities of the office are properly completed.