When Lawyers Become Criminals

by Rick Wetzel on December 1, 2010

Over the last year, I have worked on two cases in which trial lawyers engaged in criminal conduct related to the crimes for which their former clients were convicted.  This is a fertile area for both appeal and habeas corpus challenges to my client’s conviction.

Conflict Of Interest

When a lawyer commits a crime related to the criminal charges for which his client is on trial, it creates one of two actual conflicts of interest:

1. The attorney may fear a spirited defense of his client could uncover evidence of the attorney’s own criminal conduct or provoke the government into action against the attorney.  Moreover, the attorney is in no position to give unbiased advice to the client about such matters as whether or not to testify or to plead guilty and cooperate since such testimony or cooperation from the defendant may unearth evidence of crimes by the attorney, or

2. The defense is impaired because vital cross-examination becomes unavailable to the defendant.  Ordinarily, a witness’s blatantly false testimony provides a rich source for cross-examination designed to cast doubt on the witness’s credibility; but, when exposing the falsehoods might expose criminal conduct by counsel, the source cannot be tapped.

Sixth Amendment Right

There is a vast difference between zealous representation by a lawyer and criminal conduct by a lawyer.  Those lawyers who cross the line are denying their clients the right to effective representation as guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

allenrogers December 2, 2010 at 12:27 am

Rick, if you take over a case and you suspect the previous lawyer committed a crime (like threatening a witness), what should you do to make sure you are protecting the client’s rights?


Rick Wetzel December 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

The first step should be a through investigation to determine whether the previous lawyer did in fact engage in criminal conduct related to his previous client’s conviction. The evidence uncovered will guide the course of any litigation seeking to overturn the conviction.


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