What does the DA do?

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Roles and Duties of the District Attorney

Louisiana is divided into districts, each consisting of one or more parishes.  The 22nd Judicial District, for example, consists of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes.  Each district has an elected District Attorney.  The DIstrict Attorney’s Office prosecutes crimes against state laws and local ordinances and is staffed by attorneys who present the state’s evidence to a judge or jury for a determination of guilt or innocence.

Conduct a Grand Jury Investigation
Decide Whether to Prosecute
Investigate Evidence
Offer Plea Bargins
Conduct Trials
Litigate Appeals

Conduct a Grand Jury Investigation

The prosecution of a crime begins well before the perpetrator is ever charged. A grand jury is convened prior to the issuance of an indictment. The prosecutor presents evidence in the form of witness testimony before the grand jury, whose members then decide whether there is probable cause for a criminal charge. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public and are not subject to the rules of evidence. As such, hearsay evidence and testimony otherwise inadmissible in a trial may be introduced to the grand jury. Grand juries are reserved for the indictment of major felonies. All other crimes are charged by way of a Bill of Information.

Decide Whether to Prosecute

Prosecutors are given wide discretion over whether to prosecute an offender. Even if the evidence seems solid in the grand jury proceedings, there is always the possibility that the evidence will not be enough to move forward; witnesses disappear; or evidence reveals that another perpetrator was actually responsible. Criminal charges stemming from a police investigation, as opposed to a grand jury, often present a prosecutor with the difficult choice of accepting the charges or declining to prosecute. Citizen complaints alleging criminal activity are sometimes declined due to a lack of evidence.

Investigate Evidence

If a prosecutor decides to go forth with a case, she must study and understand all of the evidence presented to ensure it meets the elements of the crime. The state legislature defines each crime with a series of elements, all of which must be met to satisfy the state’s burden of proof. It is the prosecutor’s job to make certain the evidence available and admissible in the case is sufficient to meet this burden. The prosecutor generally relies on the police to produce sufficient evidence of the crime, but it is the prosecutor’s ultimate responsibility to investigate illegal activity.

Offer Plea Bargains

The DA’s Office is given wide discretion to negotiate with the defendant’s attorney for a possible plea bargain. A plea bargain is when the state, through its prosecutor, agrees to charge the defendant with a lesser crime carrying less penalty in exchange for a waiver of the defendant’s right to a trial. The prosecutor must present the plea agreement to the judge, who will review the new charges with the defendant and make certain he understands the agreement.

Conduct Trials

If a criminal case goes to trial, the prosecutor must first work with the defense attorney to select a jury to hear the case. The prosecutor must investigate the background of jurors for potential bias and may excuse any candidate who likely cannot render an impartial verdict. Once the jury is empaneled, the prosecutor presents the jury with an opening statement summarizing the case. The state presents its evidence first, followed by the defense. Throughout the trial, the prosecutor must make appropriate objections against evidence possibly inadmissible under the rules of evidence.