William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
Death by Irrelevance: The Unconstitutionality of Virginia’s Continued Exclusion of Prison Conditions Evidence to Assess the Future Dangerousness of Capital Defendants
This Note argues that Virginia statutory and case law requiring the exclusion of prison conditions evidence in capital trials where the jury must determine defendants’ future dangerousness is unconstitutional. In Part I, I present certain portions of a hypothetical capital trial in Virginia to introduce readers to the concepts of prison conditions evidence and future dangerousness, and why they are important to capital defendants. In Part II, I trace the development of the constitutional right that is violated by the exclusion of this evidence, as well as how Virginia has come to justify its exclusionary stance based on a flawed standard of evidentiary irrelevance. In Part III, I present various legal and logical arguments against this standard of irrelevance. In Part IV, I offer explanations as to why this standard of irrelevance has remained uncorrected, and draw conclusions about a potential solution.