Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Prosecute Definition:

To bring or administer judicial proceedings.

Related Terms: Prosecutorial Discretion

To start or continue legal action.

In Law Society of Manitoba v A Member of the Law Society, Justice Durealt of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench adopoted these words from the American Black's Law Dictionary:

"To follow up; to carry on an action or other judicial proceeding; to proceed against a person criminally. To 'prosecute' an action is not merely to commence it, but includes following it to an ultimate conclusion."

This is not good law. To prosecute, without more, does not imply continuous effort from filing to judgment of a legal proceeding, whether it be civil or criminal. To prosecute implies participation in the leadership - sheparding, or management - at some stage of the process. It can be the beginning to the end of the legal proceedings, or segments in between.

In State v Bowles, Justice Burch of the Supreme Court of Kansas used these words in the opinion of the Court:

“To prosecute is to proceed judicially.”

That same Court, in the 1911 case State v Stubbs:

“The word prosecute implies the commencement, as well as the continuance, of a (legal) proceeding.”

Similarly, the Court of Claims in Lesnow Brothers Inc. v United States described prosecute as:

“… the commencement or institution of suits.”

The Supreme Court of Colorado adopted these words to define prosecute in Western Electrical v Pickett:

“To bring suit against, in a court (of law), for redress of a wrong or punishment of a crime;

"To carry on a judicial proceeding against, as to prosecute a criminal;

"To seek to enforce or obtain as a claim or right, by legal proceedings.”

Lawyers are hired by the government to administer the prosecution of criminal charges in the courts.

Hence, these lawyers are sometimes referred to as prosecutors.


  • Law Society of Manitoba v. A Member of the Law Society (Manitoba), 57 D.L.R. (4th) 304 (1989)
  • Lesnow Brothers Inc. v United States, 78 F. Supp. 829 (1948)
  • State v Bowles, 79 P. 726 (1905)
  • State v Stubbs, 119 P. 360 (1911)
  • Western Electrical v Pickett, 118 P. 988 (1911)

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