Conflicts of Interest in Criminal Cases: Should the Prosecution Have a Duty to Disclose?
49 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2009
Date Written: October 21, 2009
This article addresses two types of conflicts of interests that arise in criminal cases: 1) when defense counsel has an employment relation to the prosecutor’s office, and 2) when defense counsel faces criminal investigation or charges. Both these situations threaten both the defendant’s representation and the actual as well as apparent fairness of the proceeding. Yet, only in extreme cases are these conflicts likely to result in a reversal of the defendant’s conviction. As a result, protection of the defendant and the fairness of the process often depends on early intervention, which allows the court to advise the defendant of the risks inherent in counsel’s situation and possibly accept a waiver from the defendant or disqualify counsel if appropriate.
If defense counsel has an employment relationship with the prosecutor’s office or if counsel faces criminal investigation or charges, the prosecution generally has ready access to the pertinent information, and neither the court nor the defendant is likely to be aware of the problem. Therefore, when a situation exists that may generate one of these two types of conflict, the prosecution must have an obligation to disclose relevant information to the court and the defendant. Imposing the obligation of disclosure on the prosecution will increase the likelihood that courts will be able to address these types of conflict early and appropriately.
Keywords: criminal representation, conflicts of interest, defense counsel, ineffective assistance, professional responsibility
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