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what is a prosecutor

What Is A Prosecutor? Role, Responsibilities, And True North

I started my career as a prosecutor. I’ve seen great prosecutors and unfortunately known a few prosecutors who should considered other career paths. That’s of course true in every profession; there are usually lots of great ones but also commonly a few bad apples. So if you’re reading this, I’m hoping you are a young prosecutor or soon to be prosecutor who hopes to be one of the greats. You may also be here to learn the answer to “what is a prosecutor?”All of the partners at my firm are former state and federal prosecutors. Between us we have over 100 years of experience prosecuting every level of offense you could conceieve.

At the core of a prosecutor’s job is a seemingly simple, yet profound mission: to seek justice. They’re not just out to win cases. Instead, they’re tasked with making sure the right thing happens, whether that’s pursuing a conviction, dropping charges, or offering a fair plea deal. It’s about getting to the truth and ensuring everyone gets a fair shake in the system. In essence, a prosecutor’s role is all about balancing the scales and making sure justice is served

Duties and Responsibilities of a Prosecutor

Case Evaluation

Before a case even reaches the courtroom, a prosecutor plays a pivotal role in assessing the evidence gathered from police investigations. This isn’t just a cursory glance; it involves a meticulous examination of witness statements, forensic findings, surveillance footage, and any other pertinent data. The goal is to determine if there’s a solid foundation to believe a crime has been committed and by whom.

Charging Decisions

Based on their evaluation, prosecutors decide the next steps. Should they file charges? If so, which specific ones? This decision isn’t made lightly. It’s a balance of ensuring the accused’s rights are upheld while also seeking justice for victims and the community.

Representing The State

In the legal arena, the prosecutor stands as the voice of the community or the government. Their primary task is to present a coherent and compelling case against the defendant, showcasing evidence and arguing its significance to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Plea Bargaining

Trials are lengthy and can be resource-intensive. In some situations, it might be more pragmatic for a prosecutor to offer a plea deal to the accused. This could involve reducing charges or suggesting a milder sentence in return for a guilty plea. Such decisions are made after weighing the strength of the evidence, the nature of the crime, potential risks in trial, and the interests of the victim and society.

Witness Examination

A significant portion of a trial revolves around witnesses. A prosecutor meticulously prepares to question them, aiming to extract and highlight information that supports the state’s case. This isn’t just about their own witnesses; they also cross-examine those brought by the defense, challenging their credibility and narrative.

Sentencing Recommendations

When a defendant is convicted, the journey doesn’t end. Prosecutors have a say in the aftermath, often suggesting suitable sentences to the judge. Their recommendations are grounded in legal guidelines, the severity of the crime, its impact on victims, and the defendant’s past record.


The legal system acknowledges that errors can occur. If a prosecutor believes a trial had significant legal missteps that affected its outcome, they might champion an appeal to a higher court, seeking a review and potentially a different verdict.

Continuous Learning

The legal world is dynamic, with laws, precedents, and procedures constantly evolving. Prosecutors are committed to lifelong learning, frequently attending seminars, workshops, and courses to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Community Engagement

A prosecutor’s role isn’t confined to the walls of a courtroom. They often venture into the community, holding forums, addressing public concerns, and even spearheading initiatives to educate people about their rights, the legal process, and crime prevention.

Upholding Ethical Standards

Integrity is the backbone of a prosecutor’s profession. Every decision, every action, is guided by a stringent set of ethical standards. They navigate the complex landscape of the justice system, ensuring they avoid conflicts of interest, remain impartial, and always prioritize the pursuit of genuine justice.

Ethical Considerations for a Prosecutor

Seeking Justice, Not Just Convictions

At the core of a prosecutor’s ethical responsibility is the pursuit of justice. Their role isn’t to win cases at any cost but to ensure that justice is served. This means they must sometimes make tough decisions, like dropping charges when evidence is insufficient or when they believe the accused is innocent.

Avoiding Conflicts Of Interest

Prosecutors must avoid situations where personal interests could compromise their professional judgment. This includes situations where they have a personal relationship with a party involved in a case or stand to gain personally from a particular outcome.

Full Disclosure

Prosecutors have an ethical duty to disclose evidence to the defense, especially if it could exonerate the accused. Withholding exculpatory evidence, known as a Brady violation, is a serious ethical breach.

Fair Treatment

Every individual, regardless of background, wealth, or status, deserves fair treatment in the eyes of the law. Prosecutors must ensure that they don’t show favoritism or bias and that their decisions are based solely on the evidence and the law.

Respect For Rights Of The Accused

While prosecutors represent the state or the people, they must also respect the rights of the accused. This includes ensuring that the accused receives a fair trial and that their rights, as outlined in the Constitution and other legal statutes, are not violated.

Avoiding Undue Influence

Prosecutors must be wary of external pressures, whether from the public, media, or political entities. Their decisions should be based on the law and evidence, not on public opinion or potential political gain.

Honesty And Integrity

In all dealings, whether in court or outside, prosecutors must uphold the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Misrepresenting facts, misleading the court, or engaging in deceitful practices is not only unethical but can also lead to miscarriages of justice.

Maintaining Professional Competence

The legal landscape is ever-evolving. Prosecutors have an ethical responsibility to stay updated on new laws, precedents, and legal techniques to ensure they serve their role effectively and justly.

Handling Power With Care

The discretionary power that prosecutors hold, such as deciding whether to charge someone or offer a plea deal, comes with immense responsibility. They must exercise this power judiciously, always keeping the broader pursuit of justice in mind.

In essence, the ethical considerations for a prosecutor revolve around a delicate balance: wielding their significant power responsibly while ensuring fairness, transparency, and justice in every decision they make.

How much do prosecutors make.jpg

How much do prosecutors get paid in Texas?

Starting Salaries

The starting salary for a prosecutor in Texas can vary based on the size of the county and the specific office. For instance:

  • In smaller counties, the starting salary might be around $50,000.
  • In larger counties or metropolitan areas, the starting salary can be higher, reaching up to $70,000 or more.

Salary Progression

As prosecutors gain experience and move up the ranks, their salaries increase. For example:

After a few years of experience, a prosecutor can expect a salary in the range of $60,000 to $80,000. Senior prosecutors or those in leadership positions can earn salaries well above $100,000.

Factors Affecting Salaries

Several factors can influence a prosecutor’s salary, including:

  • The size of the county or city they work in.
  • The specific office or department they are part of.
  • Their years of experience and expertise in specific areas of criminal law.
  • Benefits and Perks: In addition to their base salary, prosecutors often receive additional benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and opportunities for continuing legal education.

How much do federal prosecutors make?

Federal Prosecutors (Assistant U.S. Attorneys) Salary Range: The salary for federal prosecutors, specifically Assistant U.S. Attorneys, can vary based on experience, location, and the specific U.S. Attorney’s office they work for. In 2021, the salary range for an Assistant U.S. Attorney was between $55,756 to $166,502. However, this range can be higher in areas with a higher cost of living or for those with significant experience.

Factors Affecting Salary:

Experience, location, and the specific U.S. Attorney’s office.
Additional Benefits: Federal prosecutors often receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and potential student loan repayment assistance.

How much do entry level prosecutors make in other states?

Based on the information from ZipRecruiter for 2023, here is a sampling of state level starting salaries:

Washington: Annual Salary of $53,841, translating to an hourly wage of $25.89.
New York: Annual Salary of $51,614, with an hourly wage of $24.81.
Maryland: Annual Salary of $49,807, which means an hourly wage of $23.95.
California: The annual salary stands at $49,696, with an hourly wage of $23.89.
Virginia: Annual Salary of $49,655, translating to an hourly wage of $23.87.

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