Defense attorney dilemma

Today I have a lawyerly plot bunny for you.

Defense attorneys have various legal and ethical duties, some of which may occasionally collide. On the one hand, a defense attorney has the obligation to represent her client to the best of her ability, using all reasonable legal means to get her client off the hook, regardless of whether she believes the client is guilty. On the other hand, she is an officer of the court, charged with making sure no miscarriage of the law occurs.

Really, these duties are toward the same end, since both involve making sure that the justice system runs the way it’s supposed to. But sometimes they can create problems. For example, what if the defendant lies on the stand? Does the attorney let the judge know that perjury has occurred, or does she keep her mouth shut?

If the attorney knows—or suspects—ahead of time that her client will perjure himself on the stand, she has the duty to keep that from happening. The easiest way is to not call him as a witness. The defendant cannot force his lawyer to let him testify. However, if the defendant does testify and unexpectedly lies, the lawyer’s not supposed to say anything—but she can’t intentionally let him continue lying. It can be a difficult balancing act.

So here’s your plot bunny. Your character is an attorney representing a smooth bad guy. The bad guy lies on the stand—implicating someone else—and is found not guilty. Now the cops are after that third party, and your lawyer wants to make sure an innocent party doesn’t go to prison. What does he do? And what complications might ensue if he’s attracted to that innocent third party?

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