At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What does a State's Attorney General do?

R. Kimball
R. Kimball

A state’s attorney general is responsible for enforcing the law in the state where he or she was elected. The attorney general is the chief legal representative for the state and serves as general counsel for most of the state’s government agencies. Each state’s attorney general manages all legal representation of the state in civil and criminal matters on a state and federal level. Most attorneys general manage specific assistance programs throughout the state.

As the chief legal representative of the state, the attorney general runs an office that provides legal counsel to the state and its agencies. It is the attorney general’s responsibility to enforce the laws of the state evenly and fairly across the entire citizenship. As such, the attorney general’s office works with the different levels of state law enforcement, state judiciary, federal law enforcement, and judiciary as well as international law enforcement to assist in legal interpretation and coordination efforts.

The State's Attorney General is the head of the state's legal office and is responsible for enforcing the law.
The State's Attorney General is the head of the state's legal office and is responsible for enforcing the law.

The state’s attorney general provides a variety of core services to different state agencies. These core services range from forensic sciences to telecommunications. The specific services provided by an attorney general’s office vary by state. Some states' attorney general offices also include peace officers charged with pursuing special types of cases for the state.

Any time the state or a state agency is sued, the state’s attorney general represents the state or its agency in the case. These cases might be criminal or civil, depending upon the issue in the suit. In certain states, the state’s attorney general is responsible for representing the state penal system in an appeal to a federal court. The attorney general himself or herself cannot be present in court for each of these incidences, but a member of the attorney general’s legal staff always represents the state or its agency.

Coordination efforts among state, federal, and international law enforcement within a given state make up one of the larger responsibilities managed by the state’s attorney general. These efforts include narcotics investigations as well as many other criminal investigations that cross enforcement areas. Managing the data associated with these investigations is also the responsibility of the attorney general’s office.

The state’s attorney general manages the child support process in some states. The office may run programs specifically to increase public safety or reduce unfair or fraudulent activities. In some states, this office is the guardian of the state’s natural resources through law enforcement.

Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- I don't know if I like the idea of an attorney general refusing to defend or enforce a state's law that he or she just doesn't like. Isn't defending and enforcing the law the exact thing an attorney general is supposed to do? Refusing to do that is kind of like a bus driver who refused to drive a bus.



@Soulfox -- But it is not unusual to see an attorney general refuse to defend a law that he or she hates. Some have even gone so far as to not enforce laws that believe are unconstitutional.

That kind of behavior raises a lot of questions. We are talking about elected officials here, so can they argue that they are just representing the voters when the refuse to defend or enforce a law? Can they say that they were put in office to act in line with their convictions?


One of the most difficult things that attorneys general have to do is represent their states in defending laws with which they may not agree. Quite often, you will see those attorneys general called in to do things like defend anti abortion laws even if the attorney general in question is pro choice. The same goes for attorneys general who support homosexual marriage but find themselves having to defend laws banning such marriage.

It can be quite painful for those attorneys general to defend laws they despise, but that is just part of the job.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The State's Attorney General is the head of the state's legal office and is responsible for enforcing the law.
      By: Minerva Studio
      The State's Attorney General is the head of the state's legal office and is responsible for enforcing the law.