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Hard Lessons: The Role of Law School Clinics in Addressing Prosecutorial Misconduct

Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 16, p. 388, 2011

Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-42

52 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2011 Last revised: 17 Dec 2012

Lara Abigail Bazelon

University of San Francisco School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2011


This Article approaches prosecutorial misconduct from a pedagogical perspective by exploring the ways in which law school clinicians can teach their students how to confront the problem proactively and in-the-moment, with an eye toward reducing its rate of occurrence and blunting its corrosive effect.

Prosecutorial misconduct is a serious problem that strikes at the heart of a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. More broadly, it has the potential to impact the integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole. Educating law school students in criminal clinics about this issue before they become prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys serves three important goals. First, such instruction can act as preventative medicine by reducing the likelihood that future prosecutors will step over the line out of ignorance of the applicable case law and court rules or out of a misplaced desire to win at all costs. Second, it enables future defense counsel to develop litigation methods designed to prevent the problem from occurring in the first instance. Third, it can prepare defense counsel to recognize prosecutorial misconduct that proves unpreventable so that she is able to respond effectively in-the-moment rather than belatedly, after the harm has been done.

The blended learning approach that is the signature pedagogy of the clinical classroom is well-suited to addressing prosecutorial misconduct because it provides an opportunity for students to engage in a frank and thoughtful dissection of the legal and ethical issues that are inextricably bound up with it. The model I propose combines instruction in black letter law, ethics, and skills acquisition. It also seeks to have clinicians model the process of analyzing and responding to prosecutorial misconduct using examples from their real world experiences. With this approach, students will learn to think critically about their roles and responsibilities as future prosecutors and defense attorneys and to develop sound professional judgment before they enter the whirlwind of practice.

Keywords: prosecutorial misconduct, ethics, pedagogy, clinical programs, clinics

Suggested Citation

Bazelon, Lara Abigail, Hard Lessons: The Role of Law School Clinics in Addressing Prosecutorial Misconduct (December 1, 2011). Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 16, p. 388, 2011; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-42. Available at SSRN: or

Lara Abigail Bazelon (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
310-663-7105 (Phone)

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