Roles in the Criminal Justice System

The Commonwealth's Attorney

The Commonwealth's Attorney, called a "District Attorney" in other states, represents the people of Virginia in the prosecution of criminal cases. Commonwealth's Attorneys (CA) are elected by local citizens every four years. The Commonwealth's Attorney prosecutes cases in criminal court, traffic court, juvenile and domestic relations court, and circuit court, as well as handling appeals to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The Commonwealth Attorney has a staff of assistant or deputy Commonwealth's Attorneys who serve in the same capacity, although they are not elected. When a person is prosecuted for intimate partner violence, typically there is one person who handles these cases for the Commonwealth's Attorney.

The Victim/Witness Office

The Victim/Witness programs offer support and resources to all victims of crime. Many of the people they work with are victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, including children; however any victim may use their services. Victim/Witness offices are housed in the Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney's office and the Albemarle County Police Department. At UVA, Angela Tabler is a victim advocate in the UVA police department, and Claire Kaplan works specifically with survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. In some cases, these roles overlap; what's important is that you feel comfortable working with any advocate.

If a police report is made, you may receive a call from a Victim-Witness Assistance Coordinator, who will ask to set up a meeting with you to explain how the criminal justice process will work in your case. The coordinator may set up meetings between you and the Commonwealth's Attorney, can accompany you throughout the court process, and work with you to get a protective order, if needed. If an arrest is NOT made, you may still seek their services; in this case, you will need to call them directly.

The Victim-Witness coordinator will also provide emotional support, help you apply for reimbursement of your expenses from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, which is available if you make a police report.

The Magistrate's Role

The primary duty of the magistrate is to provide an independent, unbiased review of complaints brought to the office by police officers, sheriffs, deputies, and citizens. Magistrates are not police officers, nor are they lawyers; however, they are specially trained to perform such duties as issuing search warrants, subpoenas, arrest warrants, summonses, and setting bail. In addition, magistrates may assist the public by providing information on the judicial system processes and procedures.

Responsibilities of the Magistrate are:

Information courtesy of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.