Government Attorneys in the Judicial Process


Government Attorneys in the
Judicial Process
Government attorneys work at all levels of the judicial process, from trial
courts to the highest state and federal
appellate courts.
Federal Prosecutors. Each federal
judicial district has one U.S. attorney
and one or more assistant U.S. attorneys. They are responsible for prosecuting defendants in criminal cases in
the federal district courts and for defending the United States when it is
sued in a federal trial court.
U.S. attorneys are appointed by the
president and confirmed by the
Senate. Nominees must reside in the
district to which they are appointed
and must be lawyers. They serve a
formal term of four years but can be
reappointed indefinitely or removed at
the president’s discretion

. The assistant U.S. attorneys are formally appointed by the U.S. attorney general,
although in practice they are chosen
by the U.S. attorney for the district,
who forwards the selection to the
attorney general for ratification.
Assistant U.S. attorneys may be fired
by the attorney general.
In their role as prosecutors, U.S.
attorneys have considerable discretion
in deciding which criminal cases to
prosecute. They also have the authority to determine which civil cases to
try to settle out of court and which
ones to take to trial. U.S. attorneys,
therefore, are in a very good position
to influence the federal district court’s
docket. Also, because they engage
in more litigation in the district
courts than anyone else, the U.S.
attorneys and their staffs are vital
participants in policy making in the
federal trial courts.


take cases to the courts of appeals, and aid
the solicitor general’s office in cases argued before the Supreme Court.
U.S. Solicitor General. The solicitor
general of the United States, the thirdranking official in the Justice Department, is assisted by five deputies and
about 20 assistant solicitors general.
The solicitor general’s primary function is to decide, on behalf of the
United States, which cases will and will
not be presented to the Supreme
Court for review. Whenever an executive branch department or agency
loses a case in one of the courts of appeals and wishes a Supreme Court review, that department or agency will
request that the Justice Department
seek certiorari. The solicitor general
will determine whether to appeal the
lower court decision.
Many factors must be taken into
account when making such a decision. 

Perhaps the most important consideration is that the Supreme Court is
limited in the number of cases it can
hear in a given term. Thus, the solicitor general must determine whether a
particular case deserves extensive consideration by the Court. In addition to
deciding whether to seek Supreme
Court review, the solicitor general personally argues most of the government’s cases heard by the High Court.

Other Government Lawyers. At
both the state and federal levels, some
government attorneys are better
known for their work in appellate
courts than in trial courts. For example, each state has an attorney general
who supervises a staff of attorneys
who are charged with the responsibility of handling the legal affairs of the
state. At the federal level the Department of Justice has similar responsibilities on behalf of the United States. 

The U.S. Department of Justice. Although the Justice Department is an
agency of the executive branch of the
government, it has a natural association with the judicial branch. Many of
the cases heard in the federal courts
involve the national government in
one capacity or another. Sometimes
the government is sued; in other instances the government initiates the
lawsuit. In either case, an attorney
must represent the government. Most
of the litigation involving the federal
government is handled by the Justice
Department, although a number of
other government agencies have attorneys on their payrolls.
The Justice Department’s Office of
the Solicitor General is extremely important in cases argued before the
Supreme Court. The department also
has several legal divisions, each with a
staff of specialized lawyers and headed
by an assistant attorney general. The
legal divisions supervise the handling
of litigation by the U.S. attorneys, 

attorneys. Others will seek to become
district attorneys or judges after a
few years.
The district attorney’s office has
a great deal of discretion in the
handling of cases. Given budget and
personnel constraints, not all cases
can be afforded the same amount of
time and attention. Therefore, some
cases are dismissed, others are not
prosecuted, and still others are prosecuted vigorously in court. Most cases,
however, are subject to plea bargaining. 

This means that the district
attorney’s office agrees to accept the
defendant’s plea of guilty to a reduced
charge or to drop some charges
against the defendant in exchange for
pleas of guilty to others Public Defenders. Often the person
charged with violating a state or federal criminal statute is unable to pay
for the services of a defense attorney.
In some areas a government official
known as a public defender bears the
responsibility for representing indigent defendants.

 Thus, the public defender is a counterpart of the prosecutor. Unlike the district attorney,
however, the public defender is usually appointed rather than elected.
In some parts of the country there
are statewide public defender systems;
in other regions the public defender is
a local official, usually associated with
a county government. Like the district
attorney, the public defender employs
assistants and investigative personnel.

Prosecutors at the State Level.
Those who prosecute persons accused
of violating state criminal statutes
are commonly known as district
attorneys. In most states they are
elected county officials; however, in
a few states they are appointed.
The district attorney’s office usually
employs a number of assistants who
do most of the actual trial work. Most
of these assistant district attorneys are
recent graduates of law school, who
gain valuable trial experience in these
positions. Many later enter private
practice, often as criminal defense 

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