The role of attorneys general with respect to the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses varies in each state and territory, ranging from complete criminal jurisdiction to no criminal jurisdiction. Regardless of responsibility, most attorneys general have a part in forming criminal justice policy and drafting criminal legislation.

Although there are seven types of criminal authority, attorneys general typically have one of three roles within the realm of criminal justice:

  • The attorney general serves as the sole prosecuting authority.
  • The attorney general has no criminal jurisdiction.
  • The attorney general plays a significant role in the investigation and prosecution of criminal matters, both at the trial and appellate levels.

In addition, attorneys general are generally involved in policy matters affecting the criminal laws in their respective jurisdictions. Every attorney general also has authority in appeals and post-conviction matters in criminal cases. Criminal justice issues in which the attorney general may be involved include:

  • Child welfare
  • Corrections litigation
  • Domestic violence
  • Financial crimes
  • Forensic science
  • Habeas corpus
  • Hate crimes
  • Police misconduct
  • Sexual violence

Investigative Powers

An attorney general’s investigative power ranges from supervising or controlling state law enforcement officers to employing investigators within the attorney general office. Several attorney general offices have investigation units with arrest power and peace-officer status.

Some attorneys general have broad powers and can investigate violations of any state statute.  For others, the authority to investigate criminal activity may be dependent on the type of crime or contingent upon a request by a governor or another public official.

Courses and Trainings

Policy Letters

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