Prosecutorial Offices & Judges
Federal court systems are run by the United States government. As such, prosecutions of criminal activity are brought against people by the government itself. Federal crimes are also investigated by federal investigative branches like the FBI. To bring charges against a person, the investigative law enforcement agency must work with the prosecutorial office to file a criminal complaint against the individual or business.
There are a number of different federal offices in the US that can be called upon to act as prosecutors in federal court proceedings. The best known is the US Attorney’s office, but there are other prosecutors as well. All of these individuals are employed by the US government and act on behalf of the government in their conduct.
US Attorney’s Offices
Typically, cases begin with an investigation by special agents from one of the federal law enforcement branches. But if the investigators want to bring charges against the person or entity, they have to work with the federal prosecutors in the US Attorney’s office. Without the approval and involvement of the US Attorney’s office, there is no way for the investigators to bring an issue to court.
The US Attorney’s office acts like the DA does in a state or local level case. The federal investigators take the place of local police. In local investigations, the DA’s office compiles a case based on the evidence gathered by law enforcement. In federal investigations, the US Attorney’s office works with the federal investigators to compile a case based on their evidence.
There are 93 total US Attorney’s Offices located at different points throughout the country. The people who work in these offices are called Assistant US Attorneys because, even though they’re fully licensed lawyers themselves, they act as assistants to the United States Attorney General. Virtually every criminal prosecution and investigation on a federal level is overseen by an Assistant US Attorney. AUSAs are almost always the ones responsible for deciding what charges are being pressed, what plea agreements are being negotiated, and how to represent the United States government at trial and in court.
Throughout the nation, there are about ten thousand criminal and civil prosecutors for federal court.
The Department of Justice is a federal institution whose headquarters is referred to as Main Justice. The Attorney General of the United States is the leader of the Department of Justice. Trial attorneys in the Department of Justice are often asked to help with criminal prosecutions and investigations all over the country.
The Department of Justice headquarters is divided into multiple different sections. Each of the sections focuses on a different branch of criminal activity. Some of the sections include organized crime, antitrust, and fraud investigations.
The Main Justice trial attorneys are most likely to get involved in nationwide and widespread investigations into the following crimes:
- International drug dealing
- Violent criminal behavior
- Public corruption
- Identity theft
- Securities fraud
- Bank fraud
- Healthcare fraud
- Wire fraud
- Mail fraud
A magistrate judge is a judge who works for a federal district court judge. These judges are also appointed by the district court judges. Their job is to conduct the preliminary proceedings for criminal cases, meaning that they weigh preliminary evidence to decide if there’s enough evidence to officially file a criminal complaint.
They also handle the trial and sentencing of federal misdemeanor cases, which are less serious than felony cases. Magistrate judges engage in conducting a variety of matters prior to a trial including the gathering, filing, and presentation of evidence. They do this at the behest of the federal court judges they serve.
Magistrate judges also sometimes conduct trials and resolutions of federal civil cases, provided that the litigants consent to have a magistrate judge preside over their case in lieu of another resolution. Magistrate judges are also the most likely to give authorization for arrest warrants and search warrants. They are the ones who tend to conduct criminal arraignments, read the charges being pressed, and establish bail procedures for people being federally prosecuted.
About 600 magistrate judges operate throughout the US.
District Court Judges
These judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States to preside over federal court proceedings. There are 93 federal judicial districts throughout the US, in which these judges serve. About 675 federal district court judges are currently operating throughout the United States.
District court judges oversee the most important federal cases, including both criminal and civil litigation. Though the magistrate judge who serves them may conduct preliminary procedures, the district court judge is the one who presides over the entire case. The judge is there from arrest all the way through the eventual sentencing.