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Unpublished Paper
Contempt for the Rights of Man: The Role of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Virginia Capital Cases
ExpressO (2008)
  • Fay F Spence
From reinstatement of the death penalty in Virginia in 1977, until January 2001, 132 Virginia defendants have been sentenced to death. Approximately 70% of the federal post-conviction proceedings in these cases allege some form of prosecutorial misconduct. This article discusses the appellate and post-conviction treatment of the prosecutorial misconduct allegations in each of these cases. Three cases were actually reversed because of misconduct. Courts recognized prosecutorial misconduct in another 14 cases, but held it to be “harmless error.” In 32 of the cases, the courts refused to address the allegations of misconduct, finding the issue to be “procedurally defaulted.” In 29 cases, the courts held that the alleged prosecutorial behavior did not amount to “misconduct.” Judicial treatment of prosecutorial misconduct allegations in many of these cases is alarming, because prosecutorial misconduct potentially causes the conviction and even execution of innocent persons. Equally important, such behavior by the government also contributes to a poor public perception of the justice system. This article concludes with several recommendations for responding to and preventing prosecutorial misconduct, including improved training for prosecutors, increased disciplinary committee involvement, and judicial and legislative changes in capital case procedures.
  • prosecutorial misconduct,
  • capital punishment,
  • death penalty
Publication Date
November 13, 2008
Citation Information
Fay F Spence. "Contempt for the Rights of Man: The Role of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Virginia Capital Cases" ExpressO (2008)
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