Tips for Interacting with the District Attorney's Office
When law enforcement finishes its investigation, information is sent to the district attorney’s office for a charging decision. The district attorney’s office is made up of office staff, prosecutors (called district attorneys and assistant district attorneys) and a Victim/Witness Program.
Role of the Prosecutor
The district attorney (or one of the office's assistant district attorneys) reviews the information received from law enforcement to determine whether a charge should be issued and what that charge should be. He or she might also make additional requests of law enforcement, based on the belief that more investigation is needed before a charging decision can be made or to support a particular charge. The prosecutor has the responsibility to represent the state in court, to present the case, and to seek a just outcome.
Role of Victim/Witness Staff
Every district attorney’s office in Wisconsin has a Victim/Witness Program. The purpose of the program is to provide crime victims and witnesses with a liaison to help them through the prosecution of the crime. Victim/Witness staff assist victims with understanding and exercising their rights, finding referrals for victim support services and providing information about the case process.
Tips for Interacting with the District Attorney's Office and Victim/Witness
The following tips are provided to help save you time and make your communication with the district attorney’s office more productive:
- contact information for Wisconsin District Attorney’s Offices.
- contact information for county Victim Witness Programs.
- Crime victims have a right to receive written information from the district attorney’s office within ten days after the initial appearance or 24 hours before a preliminary hearing, whichever is sooner. The information should include a list of rights and how to exercise those rights. It should also contain contact information so you know who to call for more information about the case. If a charging decision has been made and you do not have this information, you should request it so you know what is expected should you want to exercise your rights. Read Victim Rights and Services on this website for more information about your rights.
- Be sure to let the district attorney’s office know if your contact information changes so the office can reach you.
- The Victim Witness Program works with victims and witnesses after a charge has been filed. If the case has not been referred to the district attorney’s office, you should direct your questions to the investigating law enforcement agency.
- If you are not sure whether your case has been referred for charges, you can call the investigating agency and ask if they have “referred” the case to the district attorney; you can also call the victim witness program to ask if they have received a referral.
- If you want to speak directly with the prosecutor you can call the main district attorney office number or the victim witness office to request a meeting with the prosecutor. If law enforcement has not yet referred the case to the district attorney’s office, the amount of information you will get from the prosecutor is limited. He or she may not have any information to share with you. If the case has been charged, you have “the right to confer” (talk) with the prosecutor about the case.
- If you meet with the prosecutor be aware that victims of crime have the right to discuss the case but prosecutors are not obligated to do things the way a victim might want. Most prosecutors take crime victims’ concerns and opinions very seriously and under advisement. However, a prosecutor is ultimately bound by laws and ethics to charge and prosecute the case according to what he or she feels is just and provable. The reality is that sometimes the victim and prosecutor do not agree on what is just or provable in a case. Ultimately, the charging decision and prosecution strategy is a decision made by the prosecutor.
- You are entitled to ask for information about the case. Most agencies do not have a policy that requires victim/witness or prosecutors to call crime victims at regular intervals. Survivors of crime have reported that this gives the impression that their loved one’s case is not moving ahead or is not important to the district attorney. It is more often a reflection of the fact that agencies are unlikely to call you unless they have new information. If regular updates are important to you, whether or not there is anything new to report, you may find it helpful to talk to the victim/witness staff about that. Often, communication can be improved by having a conversation about your needs and what is feasible for the office.
Let victim/witness staff know if you are dissatisfied with anything so that problems and miscommunication can be cleared up as soon as possible. Prosecutions are stronger when victims, prosecutors and victim/witness are able to work together. If you need help communicating with the district attorney's office about the case or your rights, consider calling the Wisconsin Department of Justice Victim Resource Center toll-free at (800) 446-6564 to ask for a liaison to help you address your concerns