Ben Nichols is the Prosecuting Attorney for Asotin County.
The county prosecuting attorney has major responsibilities as a legal advisor, a prosecutor of criminal matters, a representative of the county in civil cases, and, in smaller counties, as ex-officio coroner.
State statutes fix the following duties for the prosecuting attorney:
- Shall be the legal adviser to the county legislative authority, school directors and other county and precinct officers in all matters relating to their official business, although school districts may hire private attorneys.
- Shall appear for and represent the state, county and all school districts in all criminal and civil proceedings in which the state or county or any school district in the county may be a party.
- Shall prosecute all criminal and civil actions in which the state or county may be a party and defend all suits brought against the county.
- Shall review and approve all cost bills in criminal cases and take care that no witness fees and other charges are greater then allowed by law.
- Shall attend and appear before and give advice to the grand jury when cases are presented for consideration and make an annual report to the Governor at the end of each year.
- Shall serve as county coroner in counties with a population of 40,000 or less.
- Shall provide legal guidance on a 24-hour basis to law enforcement agencies investigating felonies, which may require advice or assistance in obtaining search warrants or warrants for the arrest of a suspect.
The prosecutor’s duty as legal adviser to the county legislative authority, school directors and other county officers requires a close relationship with other courthouse officials. Written opinions are common and may require long hours reviewing state laws, court decisions and attorney general opinions. If research indicates that there are conflicting statutes or court decisions, the prosecutor may write to the state Attorney General for an opinion on the matter. Local officials call upon the prosecutor to prepare various legal documents such as leases, contracts and proper forms for resolutions being considered for adoption by the county legislative authority.
In criminal matters, the prosecutor has the duty to prosecute violators of state laws, as well as county ordinances. A person charged with a crime by either the prosecutor’s information or a district court filing, who pleads “not guilty,” is entitled to a trial (by jury if desired). During the trial, the prosecutor presents the state’s case and gives a recommendation for sentencing, if there is a conviction.
Presently, in 18 of Washington State’s 39 counties, the prosecutor acts as ex-officio coroner. In this position, the prosecutor must determine the cause of death in those instances where the death of a person is unnatural, violent, results from unlawful means or from suspicious circumstances, or if there is a possibility that the death is a homicide or a suicide. In difficult cases, the prosecutor will employ the services of a doctor, usually a pathologist.
The prosecutor is frequently in court representing the county in civil actions. For example, the prosecutor may be defending the county when it is being sued on a contested claim or suit for personal injuries, in the condemnation of property for public purposes or in an action where a taxpayer sues to recover taxes claimed to be excessive.
The prosecutor may assist parents by establishing paternity and helping to collect delinquent payments in child support cases. In addition, the prosecutor can be involved in guardianship matters, to a degree, and in the involuntary commitment to the state mental hospitals of people suffering from mental illness.
The prosecutor may appoint one or more deputies who shall have the same power in all respects as their principal. Deputies, like the prosecutor, are required to be attorneys. A prosecutor is also allowed to borrow deputy prosecutors from another county to assist in cases where particular expertise is required or if there is a conflict of interest.
In counties with a population of less than 18,000, the prosecutor may also engage in private practice, although in several instances, counties have chosen to increase the prosecutor’s salary and make the position full-time.
Individual prosecutors are appointed by diverse appointing authorities to serve on a number of state boards and commissions created by statute. These include the Criminal Justice Training Commission, the Washington State Patrol Criminal Justice Advisory Council and Organized Crime Unit Oversight Committee, the Forensic Investigation Council and other groups with similar purposes.