What Are the Ethical Responsibilities of Defense Attorneys?

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    Zealous Advocacy

    • Ensuring that clients' rights are preserved through zealous advocacy is the defense attorney's basic ethical responsibility. Attorneys must uphold this standard by competently analyzing all relevant legal issues that affect their client, cross-examining government witnesses, objecting to improper questions and presenting appropriate legal defenses.

    Confidentiality

    • Keeping all information confidential is another important ethical obligation that holds--even after a case ends or a client dies--according to commentary posted on the American Bar Association's Website. Exceptions include disclosures allowed by law, implied consent given by the client and disclosures made by the lawyer to defend against professional misconduct claims.

    Crime-Fraud Exception

    • Confidentiality differs from attorney-client privilege, which only protects the communications that both sides exchange, according to American Bar Association commentary. However, attorneys may still have to reveal if their representation poses significant risk to another person's financial or property interests. Known as the crime-fraud exception, this standard applies to confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.

    Conflict Of Interest

    • Attorneys have an ethical obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. This occurs when attorneys have competing roles that make it difficult to do their jobs fairly. For example, representing two or more clients with competing interests.

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