What is a Commonwealth’s Attorney?

The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the community leader who can shape the kind of justice system we have. The job is bigger than simply winning a few high-profile cases. Thousands of cases come through the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office each year and it’s the job of the officeholder to ensure our community’s values are front and center when determining how to treat those cases. As the elected leader of the criminal justice system, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is responsible for making the system transparent and guaranteeing that it works for the community, not just for lawyers. It is the Commonwealth’s Attorney who must engage the community on criminal justice issues and ensure the criminal justice system reflects the community’s values. 

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The Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney is the most important person in the criminal justice system that serves Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax. Although police make the arrests, it is the Commonwealth’s Attorney who decides which cases get prosecuted and how those cases will be handled. The Commonwealth’s Attorney does this by leading an office of dozens of prosecutors—establishing the office’s strategic direction, setting the policies that direct the office’s prosecutors, and creating the culture of the office. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office makes every important decision in the criminal justice system and every one of those decisions is guided by the direction, policies, and culture created by the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The critical decisions made by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office include determining:

  1. Whether to accept or reject a case;

  2. What charges to bring in a case the office has accepted;

  3. Whether to prosecute or seek alternatives to prosecution;

  4. Bail recommendations;

  5. The types of plea offers to make;

  6. How much information to provide to defendants;

  7. The types of sentences to seek; and

  8. How transparent to be with the public.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney isn’t just another prosecutor, nor are they merely a powerless cog in an unalterable system. The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the leader of the criminal justice system and the values they bring to their office shape every important decision made in that system.

As the leader of the criminal justice system—and an elected official—the Commonwealth’s Attorney has responsibilities that go beyond the courthouse. The Commonwealth’s Attorney has the duty to ensure that their office conducts its business transparently and invites the community to be a part of improving our criminal justice system. The Commonwealth’s Attorney also is responsible to fight for our community’s interests, regardless of where that might take them. The state legislature in Richmond affects our system and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s obligation is to stand up to those in Richmond who don’t share our community’s values and would try to impose their view of justice onto us. Similarly, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is responsible for building coalitions in Richmond so that we get the resources from the state that we need to achieve the justice system we want.