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 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 are 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 are at the trial court or pre-trial level, but may include writing appellate briefs and research assignments. Students are 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. In order to prepare for courts, many offices require or strongly recommend two days in the office a week. Requests for particular offices may be able to be accommodated, but 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 U.S. 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 focuses 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 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 is 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 are required to observe numerous court proceedings during the year and then write two short papers discussing such proceedings. There is a written test in the fall semester, and a major paper in the spring semester on some aspect of the criminal process or prosecution. This paper is not a research paper and will not satisfy the Law School’s upper-level writing requirement.