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 prosecutorial-accountability@deathpenaltyinfo.org.

News & Developments


Jun 11, 2024

New Accusations of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Virginia Capital Case Emerge Three Years After State Abolishes Death Penalty

A June 2024 peti­tion filed in the Prince William County, Virginia Circuit Court, accus­es for­mer Commonwealth Attorney (CA) Paul Ebert of with­hold­ing excul­pa­to­ry evi­dence dur­ing the tri­al of Louis Jefferson Dukes Jr., who, along with his nephew Lonnie Weeks Jr., was con­vict­ed of mur­der­ing a state troop­er in 1994 dur­ing a traf­fic stop. Mr. Dukes was found guilty and sen­tenced to life in prison, while Mr. Weeks was found guilty, received the death penal­ty, and was exe­cut­ed in 2000. In the…

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Apr 26, 2024

Federal Judge Orders Alameda County District Attorney to Review 35 Capital Cases Following Disclosure of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Jury Selection

On April 22, 2024, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price announced that her office was ordered by a fed­er­al judge to review 35 death penal­ty con­vic­tions after the dis­clo­sure of evi­dence that sev­er­al pros­e­cu­tors inten­tion­al­ly exclud­ed Black and Jewish peo­ple from serv­ing on a cap­i­tal mur­der tri­al in 1995. In a press con­fer­ence, DA Price indi­cat­ed that her office dis­cov­ered the hand­writ­ten notes of for­mer pros­e­cu­tors that include dis­crim­i­na­to­ry jury selec­tion tac­tics, suggesting…

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Apr 16, 2024

Trial Judge Signs Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Recommending Melissa Lucio’s Conviction and Death Sentence Be Overturned

On April 12, 2024, Judge Arturo Nelson signed an Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law sub­mit­ted by the pros­e­cu­tion and defense stat­ing that Melissa Lucio (pic­tured) was not giv­en access to favor­able infor­ma­tion in the prosecution’s pos­ses­sion at the time of tri­al. The acknowl­edge­ment of this con­sti­tu­tion­al error result­ed in Judge Nelson’s rec­om­men­da­tion to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) that Ms. Lucio’s con­vic­tion and death sen­tence be over­turned. The rul­ing marks the…

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Apr 11, 2024

Rare Agreement Between District Attorney and Defense Counsel Acknowledge Prosecutorial Misconduct and Need for New Trial for Melissa Lucio

On April 5, 2024, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Innocence Project attor­ney Vanessa Potkin released a joint state­ment regard­ing Melissa Lucio’s case, which has been pend­ing addi­tion­al review for almost two years. On January 11, 2023, the par­ties sub­mit­ted an Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law stat­ing that the defense was not giv­en access to favor­able infor­ma­tion in the prosecution’s pos­ses­sion at tri­al, an error that they agree should enti­tle Ms. Lucio to a new…

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Mar 28, 2024

OP-ED: Black Woman Denied Opportunity to Serve as a Juror in Georgia Capital Trial Cites Concerns About Racial Bias

In a March 26, 2024, op-ed pub­lished in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Patricia McTier, a Georgia nurse, recounts her expe­ri­ence being removed from a jury pool in 1998 for what she calls a ques­tion­able rea­son” relat­ed to her race. Born and raised in Appling County, Georgia, Ms. McTier grew up in the Jim Crow era and writes that she enter[ed] adult­hood dur­ing a time of great social change,” where she grew to cher­ish our American sys­tem of jus­tice and the Constitution that endows…

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