The Role of the Prosecution in a Criminal Proceeding

Jose Lopez

The Role of the Prosecution in a Criminal Proceeding

Criminal Law
| 5 min
7 Min

In the American criminal justice system, the prosecutor's position is probably the most powerful. The role of the prosecution in a criminal process cannot be overstated. From making charging and plea-bargaining decisions, to arguing cases before the court, the prosecution plays a considerable role in determining the outcome of criminal cases. However, the role of the prosecution is not limited to case processing.

Across America, prosecutors (including district attorneys and other prosecution officials) perform several unique functions, including representing the government in court. Prosecutors are also at the front line of executing criminal law and upholding federal and state constitutions. In essence, the prosecution's role in the criminal justice system is not merely that of convicting criminals.

  • As Criminal Case Processors

The prosecution is responsible for making charging and plea-bargain decisions in criminal cases. In addition to being their most popular role, it is also the most critical. The law gives prosecutors and other prosecution officials the authority to decide whether to charge a person and under what charges. The prosecutor's unparalleled power ensures that the prosecution is in control of the entire criminal justice system.

For instance, while it is the police or law enforcement's role to arrest suspected criminals, it is the prosecution who decides whether the suspect will be charged in court or not. As case processors, the prosecution oversees and influences all the aspects of a criminal case from arrest to conviction and beyond.

  • As Public Servants

Even though they are court officials, the primary role of prosecution officials is to serve the public. In performing this role, the prosecution does not act on behalf of any specific government agency or unit. For instance, when investigating or prosecuting a case, a district attorney is not acting on behalf of the police or other law enforcement personnel, rather, the role of the prosecution is to represent the public's interests.

This means that generally speaking the public is the prosecution’s client. In line with the public service role, American district attorneys are directly elected by the public. The fact that they are elected officials means their offices are political to some extent; hence they are directly answerable to the public.

  • As Administrators

In the criminal justice system, the prosecution is the primary administrator of the criminal process. Mostly, it is prosecutors and their subordinates who institute reforms and other improvements in the criminal process. As the administrators of the criminal justice system, they act as the primary problem solvers. It is the prosecution's role to develop goals and objectives for the criminal justice system.

In carrying out the administration role, prosecutors use their authority to change or influence changes in the criminal process, including procedures and legislation. For instance, they take note of any inadequacies in the law and seek remedial action, including sanctioning Congress and other relevant agencies to change the laws. As administrators, they also engage the public, including providing or supporting public education on the criminal justice process and other community services.

  • As Executors of the Law

The prosecution executes or implements the law by seeking justice within the provisions of the law. Seeking justice on behalf of the public is essentially the primary role of the prosecution. In carrying out this function, prosecutors and their subordinates are supposed to act with integrity and fairness. They should be balanced in their pursuit of justice, including ensuring that criminal charges are appropriate and fair. 

Generally, it is the prosecution's role to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. In this role, the prosecution carefully considers the interests of all parties, including victims, witnesses, suspects, and defendants. The prosecution should essentially protect the constitutional and legal rights of everyone involved in a criminal case, including the defendant. 


Compared to other criminal justice functions, the role of the prosecution is probably the most critical. As public servants, case processors, and administrators of justice, prosecution officials regularly make decisions that effectively control the direction of the criminal process. The prosecution not only influences the outcome of specific criminal cases but their role in the criminal process influences the operations of the entire criminal justice system. Mostly, the prosecution role requires sound discretion and balance or fair judgment.

7 Min
Sep 7, 2020
Jose Lopez