What does the Attorney General do?

Attorney General

What the Attorney General does is draw up indictments, hand over cases to court, deliver notifications to the defendant regarding the stipulations on the day and time the case is heard accompanied by a summons, to the accused and witnesses to come at the appointed hearing.

The Attorney General ensures state laws are followed and defends challenges to state laws in court.

Elected officials oversee the United States Department of Justice, which has more than 240,000 employees and is one of the largest agencies.

The United States Constitution outlines the responsibilities of the attorney general as:

  • Ensuring state laws are enforced
  • Supervising district attorneys and sheriffs (this can include requiring county officers to investigate, compile reports or prosecute within their jurisdictions. It also includes overseeing investigations of deadly use of force by law enforcement officers.)
  • Prosecuting violations of the law
  • Assisting district attorneys when applicable

Although the lawyer general cannot change the law that has been set. The Legislative Body in the office has a very large role in directing the use of legal resources.

Attorney General Powers and Responsibilities

While varying from one jurisdiction to the next due to statutory and constitutional mandates, the role of attorney general typically includes: 

  • Issuing formal opinions to state agencies 
  • Acting as public advocates in areas such as child support enforcement, consumer protections, antitrust and utility regulation 
  • Proposing legislation 
  • Enforcing federal and state environmental laws 
  • Representing the state and state agencies before the state and federal courts 
  • Handling criminal appeals and serious statewide criminal prosecutions 
  • Instituting civil suits on behalf of the state 
  • Representing the public’s interests in charitable trust and solicitations 
  • Operating victim compensation programs 

Criminal justice and the attorney general

Polls show California voters are growing increasingly concerned about crime, with 23% listing it as a top concern in a recent UC Berkeley survey.

While the Legislature writes criminal laws and local prosecutors handle most criminal cases, an attorney general could place more emphasis on charging, prosecuting and seeking higher sentences for certain criminal cases.

Levinson says that may look like a prosecutorial system that “focuses on more criminal justice as opposed to maybe more environmental justice.”

It’s not necessarily as simple as “tough” or “soft on crime,” though. Every case is different, but prosecuting attorneys face a plethora of decisions when handling criminal cases, Levinson said.

Those decisions include whether or not to push for sentence enhancements and the maximum possible sentence, try minors as adults, or focus on prosecuting lower-level offenses like drug possession or petty theft.

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