The Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecutes misdemeanor and felony cases for the County of Nelson and the Commonwealth of Virginia in the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District, General District, and Circuit Courts.
The position of commonwealth’s attorney was established by the Constitution of Virginia. The voters of each city and county in Virginia elect a commonwealth’s attorney to serve a four-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. In other states, this position is often named “district attorney” or “state’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, 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.
Although commonwealth’s attorneys represent Virginians in court, they do not provide legal counsel to state government. This is the role of the attorney general of Virginia, who is elected by the state’s voters every four years. Commonwealth’s attorneys also do not provide legal counsel to individual citizens on private matters. Citizens in need of legal assistance may contact the Virginia State Bar Referral Service | 800-552-7977.