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Defending a client with the full knowledge of their guilt can be very difficult for any criminal defense attorney. An attorney is always faced with an ethical dilemma of whether to do the morally right thing by breaching the confidentiality rule and disclosing the client’s confession to third parties, in order to ensure that justice prevails, or stick to his legal duty of defending his client irrespective of whether he is guilty or innocent. The rule of confidentiality demands that an attorney keeps any information obtained from his client confidential unless he gives prior permission for the information to be disclosed to third parties. This paper gives my opinion on how to handle the situation as the attorney of a client who has disclosed having abducted and murdered a five-year old boy and buried the remains at the back of his house. After the disclosure, I find out from the local newspaper that the mother of the boy my client murdered is asking for any information regarding her son. The question is whether to reveal to the boy’s mother the truth about the murderer of her son, or not. This paper concludes that, regardless of whether the client is innocent or guilty, the attorney’s job of defending his client does not change, and therefore, I choose to defend my client.

Defending a client with the knowledge that they are factually guilty beyond reasonable doubt (usually due to the client’s confession to the lawyer), is perhaps the worst nightmare criminal defense attorneys have to deal with in their daily legal practice (Zacharias & Green, 2005). The ethical dilemma is whether the attorney should do the morally right thing by breaching the confidentiality rule and disclosing the client’s confession to third parties, in order to ensure that justice prevails, or stick to his duty of defending his client irrespective of whether he is guilty or innocence. Rae (2009) defines an ethical dilemma as a difficult situation that involves a conflict between two moral decisions, where choosing one results in disobeying the other. Nonetheless, defending a guilty criminal is an ethical issue that has remained unresolved and hotly contested to the present day. This paper gives my opinion on how to handle the situation as the attorney of a client who has disclosed having abducted and murdered a five-year old boy, and buried the remains at the back of his house. After the disclosure, I find out from the local newspaper that the mother of the boy my client murdered is pleading for any information regarding her son. The question is whether to reveal to the boy’s mother the truth about the murderer of her son, or not.

The relationship between an attorney and his client is based mainly on confidentiality. The attorney-client confidentiality principle promotes open and complete discussion of all the information regarding the case while guarding the client’s feelings. The rule of confidentiality states that an attorney may not reveal any information obtained from the client without his preceding permission (Zacharias & Green, 2005). However, there are conditions which allow an attorney to disclose such information; for instance, a lawyer can reveal such information if the client is in agreement or when the client intends to start a lawsuit or commit a criminal act.

The rule of confidentiality demands that an attorney keeps any information obtained from his client confidential unless he gives the prior permission for the information to be disclosed to third parties, or if the client has intentions of committing a crime or starting a lawsuit (Zacharias & Green, 2005). However, from the case presented above, it is apparent that my client’s aim was to inform me of all the facts concerning the case to enable me defend him better, and not to disclose the information to third parties. Besides, the client has not intended to commit another crime, and therefore, I am obliged to respect the attorney-client confidentiality rule. Despite the fact that I am aware of the killer of the boy, I cannot disclose the truth to his mother as stipulated in the confidentiality clause.

Consider the case of David Westerfield who was accused of abducting and killing seven-year old Danielle van Dam. Despite knowing that his client was culpable, Feldman defended Westerfield, arguing to the judges that the evidence presented against his client suggested that certain people, apart from his client, might have murdered the victim (Zacharias & Green, 2005).   It is important to note that in indicating to the jury that the argument by the prosecution was not conclusive enough to find guilt in his client, he was just fulfilling his ethical duty of defending his client. This case is similar to the case presented above in which an attorney had to choose between his legal ethics and his individual moral principles. As an attorney, I am aware of the suffering that the dead boy’s mother is undergoing and the fact that keeping such information from her prevents justice from taking effect, but I cannot disclose any client’s information bound under the confidentiality contract, even if it is against my moral principles.

Legal ethicists have employed different approaches in dealing with cases involving clients who have confessed being guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Some ethicists, such as Monroe Freedman, have taken a strong adversarial stand of passionately defending their clients as if they were unaware of their guilt. However, other ethicists have resorted to a weak adversarial position, where they consider the knowledge of the client’s guilt when making tactical trial conclusions (Langbein, 2003). Both sides, however, agree on one thing: nobody should be convicted unless the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person is guilty of the crime he is being accused of. Guided by the rule of confidentiality and the legal ethics law, I choose the strong adversarial position to defend my client irrespective of his guilt or innocence. Strong adversarialism puts emphasis on the zealous protection of the client’s confident information. This doctrine puts the interest of the client above everything else. This credo is emphasized in Justice White’s statement in the United States v. Wade case which partly started that, “. . . We also insist that he defend his client whether he is innocent or guilty. . .” (Langbein, 2003, p. 27).  It is also important to take note of the fact that this doctrine recognizes that in most situations, criminal defense attorneys are not certain of the truthfulness of their client’s confessions. Consequently, strong adversarialists believe that it is their duty to defend their clients (Langbein, 2003).

In conclusion, defending a client who has confessed guilty of the crimes he or she is being accused of is a matter that continues to cause a heated debate among legal ethicists. Attorney-client confidentiality forms the basis of the attorney-client relationship. Regardless of whether a client is innocent or guilty, the attorney’s job of defending his client does not change. Therefore, as the attorney of this case, the interest of my client comes first and I am committed to his defense despite his disclosure of incriminating information.

Code: Sample20

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