Policy Issues

Prosecutorial Accountability

Official misconduct is rampant in death penalty cases and is a leading cause of wrongful convictions. DPIC has identified more than 600 instances in which a capital conviction or death sentence has been overturned or a death-row exoneree was wrongfully convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct.

[W]hile [a pros­e­cu­tor] may strike hard blows, he is not at lib­er­ty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improp­er meth­ods cal­cu­lat­ed to pro­duce a wrong­ful con­vic­tion as it is to use every legit­i­mate means to bring about a just one.

Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).


Prosecutors wield enormous power in the death penalty system. That power is susceptible to abuse, as evidenced by the numerous death penalty cases that have been reversed as a result of misconduct by prosecutors and police. Official misconduct is a leading cause of the wrongful murder convictions associated with death-row exonerations.

Prosecutorial misconduct can take many forms. The most well-publicized type of misconduct involves the withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland. It can also encompass the exclusion of people of color from juries, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. All-white and nearly all-white juries have been found to be more conviction-prone and more likely to impose death sentences.

Misconduct can also taint the evidence presented in a case, especially when witnesses are coerced or threatened into testifying, or when prosecutors knowingly present false witness testimony or false or inflammatory argument to the jury. Prosecutors are required to disclose any benefits offered to witnesses, including promises of reduced charges or sentences or other favorable treatment. They can violate the defendant’s rights and deprive the jury of needed information by withholding this information.

At Issue

While a growing number of prosecutors’ offices have begun to address misconduct through reform measures and conviction integrity units, misconduct continues to affect a significant number of cases. Many defendants who were convicted or sentenced to death as a result of undisclosed or unredressed misconduct have already been executed, and others face the difficult task of convincing a court not only that misconduct took place, but that it was harmful to their case. By its nature, much prosecutorial misconduct — especially Brady violations — involves concealment, and ongoing attempts to keep the misconduct hidden mean that defendants lack the evidence to prove that their convictions were unconstitutionally obtained through improper means.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC has compiled resources and studies from academic researchers and organizations like the Columbia Law School Broken System study, the Habeas Assistance Project, the Fair Punishment Project, and the National Registry of Exonerations. DPIC’s groundbreaking 2013 report, The 2% Death Penalty, highlights some of the ways in which overuse of capital punishment is linked to prosecutorial overreach and misconduct.

DPIC has identified more than 600 prosecutorial misconduct reversals and exonerations in capital cases. This means that more than 6.3% of all death sentences imposed since 1972 have been reversed for prosecutorial misconduct or resulted in a misconduct exoneration. This group of cases provides only a glimpse of the prosecutorial misconduct that occurs in the death penalty context. The list does not include cases in which prosecutors committed misconduct but courts denied relief on grounds of supposed immateriality or harmless error. It also does not include misconduct reversals of capitally charged crimes that resulted in life sentences.

For more information on the cases included in this dataset, see DPIC’s background document here. See a list of the cases here. We wel­come any addi­tions or cor­rec­tions. To cor­rect an error or pro­vide miss­ing infor­ma­tion, please noti­fy us by email and send doc­u­men­ta­tion of the cor­rect infor­ma­tion to [email protected].

News & Developments


Jan 13, 2023

Supreme Court Reverses Texas Court Decision Based on Prosecutor’s Admission About Flawed Forensic Evidence

The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the denial of relief to a Texas death-row pris­on­er whose request for new tri­al is sup­port­ed by local pros­e­cu­tors. In a two-sen­tence deci­sion, the Court grant­ed cer­tio­rari to Areli Escobar, vacat­ed the judg­ment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA), and sent the case back for recon­sid­er­a­tion. The Court’s sum­ma­ry rever­sal relied on Travis County pros­e­cu­tors’ admis­sion that Escobar’s con­vic­tion is based on flawed and mis­lead­ing foren­sic evidence.”

Read More


Sep 27, 2023

Former Texas Death Row Prisoner Clinton Young Sues Prosecutor for Misconduct

On September 18, 2023, for­mer Texas death-sen­tenced pris­on­er Clinton Young filed a fed­er­al civ­il rights law­suit in the Western District of Texas, accus­ing two Midland County dis­trict attor­neys, the pros­e­cu­tor on his case, and Midland County itself, for vio­lat­ing his con­sti­tu­tion­al right to a fair tri­al. Just four months after his 18th birth­day in 2001, Mr. Young and two oth­ers, David Page and Darnell McCoy, went on a drug-induced spree that result­ed in the deaths of two indi­vid­u­als. In 2003, Mr. Young was sen­tenced to death for these mur­ders. He…

Read More


Jul 28, 2023

Louisiana Pardon Board Declines to Consider 56 Death Row Clemency Petitions Without Merits Review

On July 24, 2023, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole set aside all 56 clemen­cy appli­ca­tions filed by near­ly every death-sen­tenced pris­on­er in Louisiana last month with­out review­ing the mer­its of a sin­gle one of them. The pris­on­ers asked for their sen­tences to be com­mut­ed to life with­out parole, but the Board made its deci­sion to return the appli­ca­tions based on an advi­so­ry, non­bind­ing opin­ion from the Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. Attorneys for death row pris­on­ers have respond­ed by argu­ing that the Attorney General’s office mis­in­ter­pret­ed the language…

Read More


Jun 30, 2023

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rejects Rodney Reed’s Brady, False Testimony, and Actual Innocence Claims

On June 28, 2023, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) denied Rodney Reed’s (pic­tured) appli­ca­tion for habeas relief and reject­ed Mr. Reed’s claim that pros­e­cu­tors at his 1998 tri­al ille­gal­ly pre­sent­ed false tes­ti­mo­ny and with­held excul­pa­to­ry evi­dence that could have exon­er­at­ed him. His case gained inter­na­tion­al atten­tion in 2019 when a bipar­ti­san group of law­mak­ers urged Republican Governor Abbot to stop his exe­cu­tion. Throughout his incar­cer­a­tion, he has con­tin­ued to main­tain his innocence. 

Read More


Jun 29, 2023

Prosecutorial Misconduct and Brady Claims Closely Examined in Forthcoming Article

A forth­com­ing law review arti­cle tack­les big ques­tions about pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al mis­con­duct. The Brady Database focus­es on the prin­ci­ple stat­ed in the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland: that the gov­ern­men­t’s with­hold­ing of evi­dence that is mate­r­i­al to the deter­mi­na­tion of either guilt or pun­ish­ment of a crim­i­nal defen­dant vio­lates the defen­dan­t’s con­sti­tu­tion­al right to due process. While the arti­cle focus­es on Brady claims in crim­i­nal law gen­er­al­ly, these claims are often raised by death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers on appeal, as demon­strat­ed by DPIC’s Prosecutorial Accountability project, which lists more than 200

Read More


Apr 19, 2023

Alabama Death Row Prisoner Appeals to U.S. Supreme Court, With Support from the District Attorney and Trial Prosecutor

On April 17, 2023, lawyers for Toforest Johnson (pic­tured, cen­ter), who has spent 25 years on Alabama’s death row, filed a peti­tion for a writ of cer­tio­rari to the U.S. Supreme Court request­ing a new tri­al. The peti­tion was but­tressed by sup­port from the present District Attorney and from the orig­i­nal tri­al pros­e­cu­tor in Johnson’s case.

Read More


Apr 04, 2023

After Being Exonerated From Texas’ Death Row, Clarence Brandley Never Received Justice

Clarence Brandley (pic­tured) was wrong­ful­ly con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to death in 1981 in Texas for the rape and mur­der of a 16-year-old white girl. From the out­set, he was tar­get­ed based on his race. On the day of the mur­der, a police offi­cer said to the two jan­i­tors at the school who had found the deceased, One of you two is going to hang for this.” Then, turn­ing to Brandley, said, Since you’re the n****r, you’re elected.”

Read More


Jan 11, 2023

Illinois Commutations Twenty Years Ago Marked Turning Point in Death-Penalty Abolition

January 11, 2023 marks the twen­ti­eth anniver­sary of for­mer Illinois Governor George Ryan’s deci­sion to grant clemen­cy to every death row pris­on­er in Illinois, the largest blan­ket clemen­cy in the mod­ern era of the death penal­ty. It was a water­shed moment in both Illinois’ crim­i­nal jus­tice his­to­ry and in the ongo­ing nation­al con­ver­sa­tion about the death penalty.

Read More


Dec 13, 2022

Curtis Flowers Prosecutor Defeated in Bid to Become County Judge

District Attorney Doug Evans, who gained noto­ri­ety for his mis­con­duct in the six tri­al of Curtis Flowers, was defeat­ed November 29, 2022 in his attempt to become a Mississippi Circuit Court judge. In a runoff elec­tion, Winona Municipal Court Judge Alan Devo” Lancaster (pic­tured) defeat­ed Evans for Mississippi Fifth District Circuit Court judge. Based on unof­fi­cial elec­tion results, Lancaster received 70% of the vote while Evans received 30% of the vote.

Read More