A court recently ordered that an attorney be suspended for at least nine months following his conviction in a drug case. The attorney was accused and eventually found guilty of helping a client purchase illegal marijuana.
The attorney said that his conduct was not a regular drug deal, but rather a “private sting” operation to discredit a police informant who he believed was a drug dealer.
In addition to violating state professional conduct rules, the attorney also exposed his client to additional criminal liability when he encouraged him to attempt to buy drugs from the informant. The attorney said that since he was helping build his client’s defense case and intended to turn the drugs over to authorities that it was not in fact an illegal drug purchase. Unfortunately, that is not a recognized defense to illegal activity because it is generally unacceptable to take enforcement of criminal laws into your own hands.
Exposing a client to additional criminal liability in the course of defending them against criminal allegations is clearly irresponsible and unethical and is also likely a case of legal malpractice. In a legal malpractice action, the impacted client must show that the attorney acted in a way that other professionals in his situation would not act, and that the misconduct changed the outcome of the case. In this situation, a reasonable attorney would not encourage illegal behavior and the outcome of the client’s pending criminal matter could be severely impacted by misconduct before or during the trial. There are also very specific rules of evidence regarding conduct by a defendant to try to influence a witness or prevent them from testifying and violating those rules can have a major impact at trial.
Source: Associated Press, “Attorney suspended for helping client buy pot,” April 18, 2013.