Representing Co-Defendants in a NJ Criminal Defense: Good or Bad Idea?

Gavel BookWhen two parties are involved in the same incident and require representation, an attorney is not prohibited from retaining both individuals as their client. Although you and a friend may both want the same attorney to provide your NJ criminal defense, this might not be such a great move.

Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which is followed by every attorney, Rule 1.7 prohibits an attorney from representing clients who have a “concurrent conflict of interest.” As defined by the rule, a concurrent conflict exists when, “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client, or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.”

It is initially the attorney’s decision to determine whether or not they would be able to represent the interests of both clients reasonably without adversely affecting the lawyer’s responsibilities to either client. If the NJ criminal defense team decides that they will be able to represent both client’s loyally, they would have to then consult both clients and gain written consent. The requirement of consent from both clients demonstrates that it is the client’s decision in the end after receiving disclosure of all information, to determine whether the benefits of joint representation outweighs the potential risks that could occur.

Problems with Representing Multiple Defendants

There are some risks that could occur in representing multiple clients involved in the same indictment or municipal court charge. The first is that, although a conflict may not be apparent from the starting of the case, a conflict could build in the middle of representation which could cause ethical problems to arise. For example, one client being offered a plea bargain in return for testifying against the other client is a classic example of a conflict for the lawyer.

Another conflict that could occur is if an attorney obtains evidence that could help save one client but could be detrimental to the case of the other client. In this situation, an attorney would have to decide whether to admit the evidence to save one client, or let the evidence slide to avoid damaging the other client’s case. This can compromise one’s NJ criminal defense by causing an attorney to be torn between their ethical and professional obligations and renders them unable to provide competent and diligent representation to both clients.

If a conflict subsequently develops between the interests of the multiple defendants, the lawyer is obligated to terminate such joint representation and initiate steps for the separate representation of the defendants.

Seek Advice from a NJ Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you are charged with a criminal offense in New Jersey along with others, it is better to seek separate representation from your co-defendant(s) to ensure that your rights are fully protected. Contact the experienced NJ criminal defense team at Villani & DeLuca.  Our attorneys offer free consultations, so call (732) 965-3350 today to discuss your circumstances.

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