Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How not to practice law: try to help your client by breaking the law

I usually make fun of the lawyer's whose stories end up in my running list of "how not to practice law." This is not one of those stories. This is a sad story of a lawyer who meant well but really did not think it through when deciding how to try to help his client. Here is the story, via Don Lundberg and Mike Frisch of the Legal Profession blog:

The attorney was defending a case involving felony methamphetamine dealing charges. He knew the identity of the state's confidential informant and devised a plan to destroy the informant's credibility by showing that he was still dealing drugs. The attorney arranged for two juveniles to purchase marijuana from the informant and assured them that the conduct was legal. The attorney sought the $200 from the client's mother, telling her that it was a litigation cost, and gave the money to the juveniles to fund the purchase.

The juveniles bought the drugs and the attorney recorded the transaction. However, the juveniles only used $50 to buy a smaller amount of marijuana and used the rest for their own purposes. The attorney then told the juveniles to hold on to the evidence but they smoked it instead. Then the attorney called upon the police and a prosecutor to take possesion of the marijuana, bringing the conduct to light. Instead, the attorney was arrested and charged. He was convicted and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

The court concluded that the attorney did not stand on "the same “legal footing” as law enforcement officers for the purpose of conducting an illegal drug buy." The court concluded that "the legislature has clearly identified those persons legally authorized to engage in law enforcement, and defense attorneys are not included....An attorney is not exempt from the criminal law even if his only purpose is the defense his client...This is not a close case."

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