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The Role of Virginia Evidence Law in Colas v. Tyree


The Supreme Court of Virginia recently decided a significant case involving an all-too-common circumstance: a police officer’s use of deadly force against a person suffering a mental health crisis. The case was Colas v. Tyree and the court was bitterly divided, with four justices finding in favor of the officer and three justices siding with the decedent, Jeffrey Tyree. There is much that could be said about law and policy in this area, but here I would like to focus on the role that Virginia evidence law played—or perhaps did not play—in the court’s majority opinion.

What makes this topic worthy of exploration is the odd fact that the majority opinion fails to address what appear to be powerful pieces of evidence noted by the dissent. Below, I attempt to piece together why the majority may have rejected the dissent’s arguments and consider whether that decision is justified. I focus on the possibility that the majority viewed the evidence cited in the dissent as categorically insufficient to justify a ruling for Tyree’s Estate. I conclude that, although there is some precedential support for a categorical holding of this sort, that precedent does not certainly apply and, in any event, is ripe for a critical reexamination by the court.

John F. Preis *

* Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law