How a State's Attorney Works

Assistant and Deputy State's Attorneys

One State's Attorney may be on the ballot at election time, but it takes an entire office to carry out the duties of the chief law enforcement official for the region.

For example, the Cook County State's Attorney in Chicago has more than 900 lawyers and a total staff of 1,600 employees [source: Cook County State's Attorney's Office]. Assistant State's Attorneys, also known as Deputy State's Attorneys,are the ones who actually appear in court, file the legal briefs and interview witnesses. The State's Attorney, on the other hand, is in charge of policy, staffing and running the office, and making decisions about certain high-profile cases.

The Cook County State's Attorney office is divided into seven sections or bureaus: criminal prosecutions, juvenile justice, narcotics, special prosecutions, civil actions, investigations and administrative services.

Another large State's Attorney office, that of Brooklyn, New York's Kings County District Attorney, has more than 40 bureaus, units and divisions, including a political corruption bureau, a civil rights and police integrity bureau, an educational bureau for school-age children, and a community relations bureau [source: Kings County District Attorney's Office].

In general, Assistant and Deputy State's Attorneys operate in criminal or civil divisions. Common criminal divisions include drugs and narcotics, property crimes, juvenile offenses, adult offenses, victim services and special prosecutions. Larger State's Attorney offices, such as Kings County, can include specialized units in areas including sex crimes and special victims, elder abuse,and domestic violence.

The civil side of the State's Attorney's office often includes civil law, child protection and human services divisions. Specialized units may investigate civil rights, workplace and labor claims, medical litigation, property tax and delinquent child support collections. Both criminal and civil divisions are often headed up by a Deputy or Chief Deputy State's Attorney. Other divisions in State's Attorney offices may focus on areas such as alternative sentencing, juvenile justice and victim's services.

Assistant State's Attorneys are on the front lines of all legal action involving the office. They're the lawyers most likely to be involved in charging an offense, interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence and legal precedent, and trying cases in court. They're also the ones most likely to be involved in sentencing and appeals hearings.

The job of an Assistant State's Attorney is often regarded as an entry-level training position for a lawyer and a stepping stone to more prestigious legal employment in the future. Besides court and legal work, Assistant and Deputy State's Attorneys also work with law enforcement officials and public outreach. In Hennepin County, for example, a community prosecution program brings prosecutors, police, residents, business owners and others in an area dealing with high crime together to maximize cooperation and increase successes in arrests and prosecutions [source: Hennepin County Attorney].

For lots more information on the legal system, see the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Commonwealth's Attorneys Services Council. "Home." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • Attorney General of Massachusetts. "About the Office." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • Texas Attorney General. "Criminal Prosecution." Feb. 26, 2008. (April 2, 2010)
  • Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. "Steps in a Michigan Criminal Prosecution." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • American Bar Association. "Steps in a Trial: Discovery." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • Hennepin County Attorney. "Civil Law." 2008. (April 2, 2010)
  • United States Department of Justice. "United States Attorneys Mission Statement." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • Cook County State's Attorney's Office. "About the Cook County State's Attorney's Office." 2008. (April 2, 2010)
  • Kings County District Attorney's Office. "KCDA Bureaus, Units & Divisions." 2010. (April 2, 2010)
  • Hennepin County Attorney. "Community Prosecution." 2008. (April 2, 2010)
  • American Bar Association. "Frequently Asked Questions About the Grand Jury System." 2010. (April 2, 2010)