Ethics and Professional Responsibility

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Ethics are written rules by which all lawyers should live by. The sources for ethical rules for criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges come from many sources. In a common law system these ethical rules may come about through case law, statute, or through promulgation of rules of conduct by the controlling bar association.

Failure to uphold ethical rules may result in disbarment, suspension, censure, or some other disciplinary measure.

Ethics should be differentiated from standards. A lawyer must abide by ethical rules. Standards are, on the other hand, aspirational.

Ethics for Criminal Defense Lawyers

The defense lawyer has several basic duties to his client and his role as a defense lawyer.

  • The defense lawyer serves as the defendant's counselor and advocate and should strive to render effective, quality, representation.
  • The defense lawyer should seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice and seek to correct inadequacies or injustices in substantive or procedural law.
  • The defense lawyer should act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing the defendant.
  • The defense lawyers should maintain as confidential all communications with the client.
  • The defense lawyer should conduct a prompt investigation into the facts relevant to the case and the penalty in the event of conviction, including securing information in the possession of the prosecution and law enforcement authorities.

The defense lawyer's duty to represent the defendant's interests is balanced by his duty to act in an ethical and professional manner.

  • The defense lawyer must not intentionally misrepresent matters of facts or law to the court. For example, if a defendant admits his guilt to the defense lawyer, the defense lawyer may not permit him to testify that he did not commit the crime.
  • The defense lawyer does not have to follow any instructions from the defendant that would be illegal or unethical.
  • The defense lawyer has a duty to disclose any relevant laws or rulings to the court that are directly adverse to the defendant and that have not been disclosed by the prosecutor.
  • The defense lawyer must avoid conflicts of interests with the defendant and all other parties involved in the case. This may mean the defense lawyer cannot represent co-defendants if their defenses will be adverse to one another.

Ethics for Judges

Ethics for Prosecutors

Rules for Lawyers

United States