Criminal defense lawyers have the same basic responsibilities as any defense lawyer. Of course, functions and roles stem from the core principles of the law practice itself. A criminal defense lawyer must uphold specific standards in the client’s best interest.
The standards for the ethical conduct of a criminal defense attorney sometimes include language taken from the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the standards often address matters beyond the scope of this erudite resource.
Additionally, criminal defense lawyers should always consider specific jurisdictions and circumstances. They should read and follow the rules of professional conduct for special cases. Furthermore, they must reference relevant authorities.
To better understand these ethical responsibilities, let’s discuss criminal defense law itself:
What Is Criminal Defense Law?
Criminal defense law deals with the legal protections for people accused of committing a crime. Law enforcement agencies and government prosecutors always have the advantage. And that’s because they have more resources than criminal defendants.
Thus, justice and due process is skewed in favor of the government without adequate protections for the accused.
In reality, fair treatment for criminal defendants often depends on the criminal lawyers’ skills. A criminal defense lawyer can use constitutional guarantees to their client’s advantage.
For instance, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the police from using unreasonable searches and seizures to gather evidence. So a lawyer for criminal defense can ask the court to suppress any evidence that was unlawfully obtained.
So, what are the ethical responsibilities of a criminal defense attorney?
Ethical Responsibilities of a Criminal Defense Lawyer
The ethical responsibilities of a criminal defense attorney are the same as their legal functions and duties. They are basically what is expected of them by law. They represent criminal defendants who are often ignorant of the law.
The average defendant is not well-versed in the constitution. They may not know the liberties or limits of their defense attorneys. So one of the duties of the criminal lawyer is to communicate with their client in an efficient way.
Some defense counsel responsibilities run throughout all stages of a criminal trial. Others run beyond the period of representation. Thus, a criminal defense lawyer should consider the impact of these duties at all stages of criminal representation. Additionally, they should consider the actions that arise while performing their defense function.
Here are the crucial roles of a criminal defense lawyer:
- To Be an Essential Part of Criminal Justice
A criminal defense attorney is essential to the administration of criminal justice. A well-constituted criminal court consists of a judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense. So a criminal defense lawyer is necessary for due process. Sometimes a criminal defense team is needed.
- To Be Both a Court Officer and an Advocate
Criminal defense lawyers have a difficult twofold task. They serve as both officers of the court and faithful advocates for their clients. Their primary duties are:
- Serving as clients’ counselors and devoted advocates
- Ensuring that the constitutional and other legal rights of their clients are protected
- Delivering effective, high-quality legal representation with integrity.
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- To Abide by Lawful and Ethical Standards of Professional Conduct
Criminal defense counsel should know and abide by professional conduct standards. Applicable laws, together with ethical codes and opinions, express these standards. Further, attention must be given to specifics and jurisdiction.
Defense lawyers should seek supervisory advice when available. Also, criminal defense law firms and organizations should guide ethics in tricky cases. Criminal lawyers that disagree with a governing ethical rule should seek its change if fitting. And they can directly challenge it if necessary. But they must follow it unless relieved by court order.
- To Represent the Client and Not Become the Client
A criminal defense lawyer is the client’s professional representative. They are not the client’s alter ego. Of course, the defense counsel must act zealously within the bounds of the constitution and standards for their clients.
But they have no right to execute any directive of the client which violates the law or such standards. For the client, defense counsel may openly challenge the validity of laws and standards in good faith.
- To Reform and Improve the Administration of Criminal Justice
Criminal defense lawyers should seek to improve the administration of criminal justice. They should work to reform criminal justice and law.
Defense counsel should stimulate and support efforts for remedial actions where inadequacies exist. They should also provide services to the community. They can provide public service and Bar activities. Furthermore, they should be involved in public education and Bar leadership positions.
Criminal defense firms and organizations should support such noble activities. The office’s budget should fund and sponsor paid release time for such activities.
- To Seek Alternatives to Prosecution and Conviction
Defense counsel should know about alternatives to prosecution and conviction. They should consider them where applicable and inform the client. Moreover, criminal defense should help the community address crime problems. And they should assist in addressing perceived flaws in criminal justice and law.
- To Make Extraordinary Efforts in Death Penalty Cases
Death penalty differs from other criminal penalties. So criminal defense attorneys must work extra hard on behalf of the accused. Moreover, the defense counsel must review and follow the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.
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- To Exhibit Loyalty, Confidentiality, and Candor
Criminal defense counsel has these continuing duties to the court and the client:
- They have a duty of confidentiality. It is about the information relevant to the client’s representation. This duty continues after representation ends
- They must be loyal to the client
- They have a duty of candor toward the court and others. This duty is tempered by obligations of loyalty and confidentiality
- They must communicate with the client, informing and advising them of significant developments. These include potential options and outcomes
- They must be well-informed about legal developments that affect a client’s interest. They need to know about all available legal options
- They should always assess the impact of decisions or actions on a criminal trial. This duty includes the later stages, sentencing, and post-conviction review
- They should be open to negotiations with the prosecution in the client’s best interests
- They have to consider the collateral consequences of decisions and actions. This includes but is not limited to the collateral consequences of a conviction
Criminal defense lawyers should always review their responsibilities to criminal defendants. It is only ethical to do so. Besides, the fate of clients rests on the astuteness of their defense attorneys. Sometimes, a lawyer’s commitment to these duties can mean acquittal for the accused.
Federal-level cases are not exempt. Federal criminal defense lawyers must deal with bigger issues and graver consequences. They also have a more complex jurisdiction.