In Connecticut, state’s attorneys are appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission to 8-year-long terms. Those term lengths mean that in our state, the top prosecutors in each judicial district go for eight years without any external oversight. During those terms, state’s attorneys are not required to check in with the Criminal Justice Commission, and they never undergo data-driven performance evaluations. Instead, the only time for the experts on the Criminal Justice Commission or the public to assess and weigh in on whether a state’s attorney is fairly pursuing justice is every eight years, during reappointment hearings.
A bill before the legislature could shorten state’s attorneys’ term lengths from 8 years to five. This means that state’s attorneys would no longer go for eight years without a check-in and reappointment hearing from the criminal justice commission, but would instead be required to go through a reappointment process and check-in every five years. This would not establish term limits, but it would mean the experts on the criminal justice commission, as well as members of the public, would have the opportunity to evaluate how a state’s attorney was doing and to catch any problems earlier, instead of potentially only after eight years later, if at all.
In Connecticut, changing the state’s attorneys’ term length to five years would bring them closer in line with other prosecutors. The chief state’s attorney term length is currently five years. Deputy chief state’s attorneys, such as those tasked with lobbying the legislature, serve term lengths of four years. Changing state’s attorneys’ term lengths to five years would therefore close an existing disparity in how long state’s attorneys serve compared to other leaders in the division of criminal justice appointed by the criminal justice commission.
Reducing state’s attorneys’ term lengths to five years would also put them more in line with leadership in the office of the public defender who serve terms of four years. In our adversarial justice system, in which prosecutors are on one side and defense attorneys on the other, this would also close a discrepancy between how the state treats the appointment lengths of one side of that system compared to the other.
We also wanted to know: how does Connecticut’s system, in which state’s attorneys are appointed to 8-year-long terms, compare to the rest of the country? As it turns out, Connecticut is an extreme outlier – Connecticut state’s attorneys are appointed to longer terms than their counterparts in 47 other states. Reducing their term lengths to five years, on the other hand, would bring them up to the same standard as the 43 other states with 4- or 5-year terms, bringing them closer to the lengths of time that most prosecutors in the country go between check-ins with the groups that either elect or appoint them.
State’s Attorneys wield an incredible amount of power in the criminal legal system. By setting the tone and standard expectations in their judicial districts, they hold the lives and fates of people facing a criminal charge in their hands. Their decisions can add up to either increase or decrease incarceration, to increase or decrease racial disparities in the criminal legal system, and to either improve or worsen fairness across our state. Eight years is far too long for these powerful actors to go without accountability to an external entity, and reducing that amount of time from eight years to five would bring Connecticut state’s attorneys more in line with both other state’s attorneys here in Connecticut and across the country.
Term Lengths of State's Attorneys and Equivalents in the U.S.
(arranged according to term length)
|State||Term Length||Title of Position|
|New Hampshire||2 years||County Attorney|
|Arizona||4 years||County Attorney|
|Arkansas||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Colorado||4 years||District Attorney|
|Utah||4 years||County Attorney, called District Attorney in Salt Lake County|
|Washington||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|California||4 years||District Attorney|
|Delaware||4 years||Attorney General*|
|Florida||4 years||State Attorney|
|Georgia||4 years||District Attorney|
|Hawaii||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Idaho||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Illinois||4 years||State's Attorney|
|Indiana||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Iowa||4 years||County Attorney|
|Kansas||4 years||County Attorney and District Attorney|
|Maine||4 years||District Attorney|
|Maryland||4 years||State's Attorney|
|Massachusetts||4 years||District Attorney|
|Michigan||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Minnesota||4 years||County Attorney|
|Mississippi||4 years||District Attorney|
|Missouri||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney (Called Circuit Attorney in city of St. Louis)|
|Montana||4 years||County Attorney|
|Nebraska||4 years||County Attorney|
|Nevada||4 years||District Attorney|
|New Mexico||4 years||District Attorney|
|New York||4 years||District Attorney|
|North Carolina||4 years||District Attorney|
|North Dakota||4 years||State's Attorney|
|Ohio||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Oklahoma||4 years||District Attorney|
|Oregon||4 years||District Attorney|
|Pennsylvania||4 years||District Attorney|
|Rhode Island||4 years||Attorney General**|
|South Carolina||4 years||Circuit Solicitor|
|South Dakota||4 years||State's Attorney|
|Texas||4 years||County Attorney, District Attorney, and Criminal District Attorney|
|Vermont||4 years||State's Attorney|
|Virginia||4 years||Commonwealth's Attorney|
|West Virginia||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Wisconsin||4 years||District Attorney|
|Wyoming||4 years||District Attorney; County and Prosecuting Attorney|
|New Jersey||5 years||County Prosecutor ***|
|Alabama||6 years||District Attorney|
|Kentucky||6 years||Commonwealth Attorney|
|Louisiana||6 years||District Attorney|
|Connecticut||8 years||State's Attorney****|
|Tennessee||8 years||District Attorneys General|
|Alaska||No set term length -- serve at the pleasure of the Attorney General||District Attorney*****|
* Delaware does not have District Attorneys. The Criminal Division of the Delaware DOJ handles prosecutions, and it is led by the Attorney General.
** There are no District Attorneys for Rhode Island. The Attorney General's office handles prosecution.
*** Unless otherwise specified, each of the positions outlined in this chart is elected. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Alaska are exceptions to this. New Jersey County Prosecutors are nominated and appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
**** Connecticut State's Attorneys are appointed by the Criminal Justice Commision (CJC).
***** Alaska District Attorneys are appointed by the attorney General.
Term length sources: