Prosecution Clinic - University of Virginia School of Law
Academics: Professional Training

Prosecution Clinic


This yearlong clinical course exposes students to all aspects of the prosecutorial function.

Through a combination of classroom lectures and discussions, readings, guest speakers, and a field placement in one of several local participating prosecutors’ offices, students will explore a range of practical, ethical, and intellectual issues involved in the discharge of a prosecutor’s duties and responsibilities, including the exercise of discretion in the decision to initiate, prosecute, reduce, or drop charges, and sentencing; interaction between prosecutors and investigative agencies and law enforcement personnel; dealing with victims and other witnesses; and relationships with defense counsel. Ethical issues addressed may include: exculpatory evidence, duty not to prosecute on less than probable cause, cross-warrant situations, witness recantation and preparation, and improper argument at trial.

Clinical field placements will be in the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Offices for Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and 16 other surrounding Virginia jurisdictions within 30-75 minutes of Charlottesville, as well as the Charlottesville and Harrisonburg Offices of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and the Richmond Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. Most of the students’ responsibilities and duties will be at the trial court or pre-trial level, but may include writing appellate briefs and research assignments. Students will be assigned to one of these participating prosecutor’s offices for the entire academic year, and are expected to work there on pending cases or in court at least one day per week. It is expected that each student will work out a suitable schedule with the office to which he or she is assigned. In order to prepare for court, many offices require or strongly recommend two days in the office a week. Students must be willing to work in whatever office assigned. Students are expected to provide their own transportation, at their own expense.

Slots in the United States Attorneys’ Offices are highly sought after, but be aware that typically clinic students do not get as much in-court experience in those offices as they do in state offices.

Fall semester classroom time will focus on the more common misdemeanor charges students will likely be handling in court, and the various stages of a felony criminal case in Virginia—from obtaining the charge up through trial, sentencing, and appeal—to provide a framework within which to better understand the clinical placement experience. The lectures and discussion will cover issuance of warrants by a magistrate, arrest, first appearances, bond hearings, preliminary hearings, Grand Jury, suppression hearings, competence and sanity issues, motions in limine, and trial, as well as assisting the police during the investigative stage.

Spring semester classroom time will be devoted to particular problems or issues that might arise in a criminal case, including specific difficulties encountered by students in their cases during the fall semester. These may include questions regarding prosecutorial discretion and the charging decision (and amending charges), constitutional concerns (such as search and seizure, confession and Miranda issues, right to counsel and fair trial, speedy trial, or double jeopardy), domestic violence and reluctant witnesses, relations with the police and defense counsel, capital punishment, competency/insanity, conspiracies, accessories, plea agreements, prosecutorial immunity, federal/state differences, and juvenile defendants.

Students also will be required to observe numerous court proceedings during the year and then write two short papers discussing such proceedings. There will be a written test fall semester, and a major paper spring semester on some aspect of the criminal process or prosecution. This paper is not a research paper and will not satisfy the upper-level writing requirement.

Students who wish to enroll must complete an application form and submit it via fax (434-924-4672), in person, or by mail to the Student Records Office. All applications must be received no later than 4 p.m. Friday, May 26, 2017.

Applications are available online and in the Student Records Office. Selected students will be notified by mid-June. Because spaces in the program are limited, and because of the need to perform background checks in some instances that require deployment of significant resources, the application sheet includes a formal representation which must be signed by the student that he or she will honor the commitment to undertake this program, if selected. Once enrolled, absolutely NO drops will be permitted. Grades will be based on the papers, test, attendance at court proceedings, and field office evaluations. It is helpful if the students applying for this clinic keep as many mornings open (free from classes) as possible since most courts meet in the morning. Students earn three credits in the fall; five credits in the spring.

Attendance Requirement: Enrolled students who do not attend the first class session will be dropped. Students seeking to enroll in this course must attend the first class session.

Enrollment Limitation: Students may enroll in one clinic per semester. On a space-available basis, students may petition to enroll in a second clinical offering after the add/drop period has ended.

Prerequisite: Third-year status, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Criminal Adjudication or Criminal Investigation or Criminal Procedure Survey, and Trial Advocacy. Either Trial Ad or one of the criminal procedure courses may be taken first semester third-year as a “co-requisite”, but not both, and students who already have all six are given preference for admission. Constitutional Law, Federal Criminal Practice, Negotiation Institute, or the Trial Advocacy College, would be helpful, but are not required. Students must be eligible for and obtain Third Year Practice Certification from the Virginia Bar (which requires third year status and the first four pre-requisites).

Course Requirement: Fall - test and two short papers; spring - major paper

Related Stories: