Why Would You Get a Letter from District Attorney?

Discover the Reasons: Why Would You Get a Letter from District Attorney?

What is a district Attorney?

In the United States, a district attorney (DA), county attorney, county prosecutor, state’s attorney, prosecuting attorney, commonwealth’s attorney, state attorney, or solicitor is the chief prosecutor or chief law enforcement officer representing a U.S. state in a local government area, typically a county or a group of counties. The exact scope of the office varies by state.

Generally, the prosecutor represents the people of the jurisdiction. With the exception of three states (New Jersey, Connecticut, and Alaska), as well as the District of Columbia, district attorneys are elected, unlike similar roles in other common law jurisdictions.

The prosecution is the legal party responsible for presenting the case against an individual suspected of breaking the law, initiating and directing further criminal investigations, guiding and recommending the sentencing of offenders, and is the only attorney allowed to participate in grand jury proceedings.

Prosecutors decide what criminal charges to bring, and when and where a person will answer to those charges. In carrying out their duties, prosecutors have the authority to investigate persons, grant immunity to witnesses and accused criminals, and plea bargain with defendants.

A district attorney (or state attorney) leads a staff of prosecutors, who are most commonly known as assistant district attorneys (ADAs) or deputy district attorneys (DDAs). In states with state attorneys, the staff attorneys are usually referred to as Assistant State Attorneys.

Most prosecutions will be delegated to ADAs, with the district attorney prosecuting the most important cases and having overall responsibility for their agency and its work.

Depending upon the state’s law, DAs may be appointed by the chief executive of the jurisdiction or elected by local voters.

Why Would a District Attorney be Looking for Me?

Most criminal matters in the United States are handled in state judicial systems, but a comparable office for the United States Federal government is the United States Attorney.

Why Would a District Attorney be Looking for Me?
Why Would You Get a Letter from District Attorney?

Role of District Attorney

The principal duties of the district attorney are usually mandated by law and include representing the State in all criminal trials for crimes that occurred in the district attorney’s geographical jurisdiction. The geographical jurisdiction of a district attorney may be delineated by the boundaries of a county, judicial circuit, or judicial district.

Their duties generally include charging crimes through pieces of information or grand jury indictments. After levying criminal charges, the state’s attorney will prosecute those charged with a crime.

This includes conducting discovery, plea bargaining, and trial. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney may act as the chief counsel for city police, county police, state police, and all state law enforcement agencies within the state’s attorney’s jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney oversees the operations of local prosecutors with respect to violations of county ordinances. In other jurisdictions, the district attorney prosecutes traffic matters or misdemeanors.

In some states, the district attorney prosecutes violations of state laws to the extent that the state permits local prosecution of these. District attorneys do not prosecute federal crimes, which fall under the jurisdiction of a United States Attorney.

Many district attorneys also bear responsibilities not related to criminal prosecution. These include defending the county against civil suits, occasionally initiating such suits on behalf of the county, preparing or reviewing contracts entered into by the county, and providing legal advice and counsel to the local government.

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In some jurisdictions, the county attorney does not handle any criminal matters at all but serves only as the legal counsel to the county.


The district attorney usually divides their services into several departments that handle different areas of criminal law. Each department is staffed by several duly appointed and sworn Assistant State Attorneys (ASAs).

The departments of a large district attorney’s office may include but are not limited to, felony, misdemeanor, domestic violence, traffic, juvenile, charging (or case filing), drug prosecution, forfeitures, civil affairs such as eminent domain, child advocacy, child support, victim assistance, appeals, career criminal prosecution, homicide, investigations, organized crime/gang, and administration.

Why Would a District Attorney be Looking for Me?
Why Would You Get a Letter from District Attorney?

Assistant District Attorneys

The assistant district attorney (assistant DA, ADA), state prosecutor, or assistant state attorney is a law enforcement official who represents the state government on behalf of the district attorney in investigating and prosecuting individuals alleged to have committed a crime.

In carrying out their duties to enforce state and local laws, the ADA has the authority to investigate persons, issue subpoenas, file formal criminal charges, plea bargain with defendants, and grant immunity to witnesses and accused criminals. Administrative assistant district attorney (admin ADA), executive assistant district attorney (exec ADA), chief assistant district attorney (chief ADA), or first assistant district attorney (First ADA) are some of the titles given to the senior ADA leadership working under the DA.

The chief ADA, Executive ADA, or first ADA, depending on the office, is generally considered the second-in-command and usually reports directly to the DA. The exact roles and job assignments for each title vary with each office but generally include the management of the daily activities and supervision of specialized divisions within the office.

Often, a senior ADA may oversee or prosecute some of the larger crimes within the jurisdiction. In some offices, the Exec ADA has the responsibility of hiring lawyers and support staff, as well as supervising press releases and overseeing the work of the office.

The salary of an ADA will be lower than the elected DA. The non-monetary benefits of the job induce many to work as an ADA; these include the opportunity to amass trial experience, perform public service, and network professionally.

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Upon leaving employment as an ADA, persons seek employment as a judge, in private law firms, or as U.S. Attorneys.

Target Letter

According to the law of the United States, a person receives a target letter when a U.S. attorney has “substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime.”

The same legal technique may be used by county prosecutors in some jurisdictions. In 2005, the New York Times described target letters this way: “The U.S. attorney’s manual bars prosecutors from taking witnesses before a grand jury if there is a possibility of future criminal charges unless the witnesses are notified in advance that their grand jury testimony can be used against them in a later indictment.”

Law professor Randal Lee, a former judge and prosecutor, has said, “A target letter is simply a courtesy letter given by the federal government informing you that you’re a suspect in a criminal investigation.”

Former Assistant United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey Mitchell Epner has said that a target letter may be used by a prosecutor to induce a target of their investigation to flip, meaning to cooperate with the prosecution. Epner said, “Ordinarily, the reason that prosecutors send a target letter is to see if people want to come in to cooperate before they get charged.”

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