The Virginia State Bar association is trying to stop the state attorney general’s office from distributing warning letters for jurors in capital cases that it says might discourage them from talking to defense lawyers, reports the Washington Post. The attorney general represents the state in appeals by condemned murderers, including civil challenges once criminal appeals are exhausted. For a decade, the office has supplied local prosecutors with a letter for jurors once a civil case starts, advising them that they might be contacted by someone representing the convicted killer who “may try to give the false impression that they are working on behalf” of the prosecution or the courts.
The bar associsation argues that the letter is “offensive” and an “impediment that’s placed in the path of [a defense lawyer] who is trying to save another person’s life.” The state bar is seeking to discipline Katherine Burnett, the state’s senior assistant attorney general in charge of death penalty cases, for distributing the letters. Burnett, 58, is a nationally recognized expert in handling death penalty appeals.