What is a Commonwealth’s Attorney?

About Commonwealth Attorney in Virginia

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, each county or municipality has an elected official who is responsible for prosecuting crimes and other actions on behalf of the state. These attorneys are known as Commonwealth’s Attorneys, or in other states, they are sometimes known as district attorneys.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney advises citizens, law enforcement agencies, and magistrates regarding the interpretation of criminal law. The office typically consists of Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys and other administrative staff. The office does not handle civil cases such as divorces, landlord/tenant disputes, estates, wills, and real estate.

The position of Commonwealth’s Attorney was established by the Constitution of Virginia and the voters of each city and county in Virginia elect a Commonwealth’s Attorney to serve a 4-year term. The primary duty of each Commonwealth’s Attorney is to prosecute all felonies and misdemeanors charged under the Code of Virginia occurring in his or her locality.

Civil Functions of Commonwealth’s Attorney

Beyond his or her prosecutorial role, each Commonwealth’s Attorney is also required by state law to perform a number of civil functions. Because the Commonwealth’s Attorney in each locality has the sole discretion as to whether a defendant should be prosecuted and, if so, how the case should be tried, as he or she represents the interests of the people of Virginia.

Criminal cases are brought in the name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, explaining why cases are given names such as “Commonwealth v. Smith.” Each Commonwealth’s Attorney has the dual responsibility to vigorously prosecute those who violate the law while refusing to prosecute those against whom the evidence does not indicate probable guilt.

Legal Representation with Ashwell & Ashwell

In Fauquier, Culpeper, Prince William, and surrounding counties, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is the office responsible for prosecuting felonies and misdemeanors, providing criminal discovery, and assisting law enforcement in investigating crimes through the charging and trial stage.

If you have been charged with a crime in the Northern Virginia or Piedmont region, call Ashwell & Ashwell.