Can Two Defendants Share a Criminal Defense Attorney?

April 22nd, 2022 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

This question pops up sometimes when two people are arrested for participating in the same crime. They might think hiring the same lawyer is convenient or will help reduce costs. But there are serious ethical issues which prevent a lawyer from representing two defendants in the same case. And defendants benefit by having their own Houston criminal defense attorney who can zealously protect their interests.

The Lawyer Has an Ethical Conflict

All Houston criminal defense lawyers must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules are designed to protect the integrity of the profession and ensure that clients receive competent, ethical representation. The state bar association has the power to investigate any violations and sanction lawyers who break any rule.

Under Rule 1.06, a lawyer can’t represent opposing sides in litigation. So a lawyer can’t represent a woman injured in a pedestrian accident and the driver who struck her. This rule makes perfect sense. Each side has completely opposed interests, so the lawyer cannot fully advance each side’s case through dual representation.

With criminal cases, it’s a little different. Two defendants are not “opposed” in the same way as in the pedestrian accident case above. Still, the commentary to Rule 1.06 states that a lawyer should “ordinarily” refuse to represent multiple criminal defendants because the conflicts of interest are very “grave.” For this reason, you’ll probably find that most criminal defense lawyers refuse to represent co-defendants.

Does this mean a lawyer can never represent two defendants? No. “Ordinarily” doesn’t mean never. And the Rule commentary states that dual representation is proper where adverse risk is “minimal.” Nonetheless, the judge will need to probe the reason for the dual representation before signing off on the arrangement.

Clients Lose if They Share a Lawyer

There are obvious problems for the client as well. For example, you might have been arrested in a car with your brother as you fled from a robbery. The police arrest both of you. But what happens if you didn’t really participate, but the entire thing was your brother’s idea? You are just a bystander who should not face penalties.

You can make these arguments in court. But your brother might argue the same thing—that you were the only one who committed the robbery, and he was along for the ride. In other words, both defendants could point the finger at each other.

Here, we have a direct conflict of interest between defendants. If you share the same attorney, then he might not even raise this defense, which could result in your conviction unnecessarily.

Discuss Fees with an Attorney

Many times, defendants try to split an attorney because they are worried about how they will pay for the lawyer’s services. You should discuss all possible methods of payment with whoever you hire. At our firm, we accept all major credit cards and can talk about different billing arrangements. Good legal representation shouldn’t break the bank.

Hire an Experienced Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates can represent you in any criminal matter in state or federal court. To schedule a consultation, call Tad Law today or send an online message.

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