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Disclosure of Material Terms of Plea Agreements

Adopted: January 15, 1993

Opinion rules that the prosecutor and the defense attorney must see that all material terms of a negotiated plea are disclosed in response to direct questions concerning such matters when pleas are entered in open court.

Inquiry #1:

A prosecutor and defense attorney discuss the circumstances under which a defendant in a pending criminal case will plead guilty. It is tentatively agreed that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser included offense as to one charge and that another unrelated charge will be dismissed. After discussion with counsel, defendant accepts the plea arrangement.

A transcript of plea is prepared which does not refer to the charge that is to be dismissed. Further, the transcript, as prepared, does not state that the defendant has agreed to plead as part of a plea arrangement.

When the plea is actually entered and accepted by the presiding judge, the defendant, under oath, states that there is no plea agreement. Neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel inform the judge about the earlier plea discussion or that in return for the plea of guilty, the defendant is being allowed to plead guilty to a lesser included offense and that another unrelated charge is to be dismissed as a result of the plea.

Under the above recited factual situation, would the conduct of all counsel be consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct?

Opinion #1:

No. Rule 1.2(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. From the facts presented, it is clear that the client's guilty plea was the product of a negotiated plea arrangement. The client's untruthful answers to questions relating to the subject plea agreement and the lawyer's signature on the transcript, misrepresent the plea arrangement and thus are in violation of Rule 1.2(c). Additionally, Rules 7.2(a)(5) and (8) prohibit an attorney from knowingly using perjured testimony or false evidence and from counseling or assisting his client in conduct that the lawyer knows to be fraudulent.

Inquiry #2:

Assume a similar factual situation where the prosecutor agrees to tell the judge in open court before sentencing that the state is not opposed to a probationary sentence in return for the defendant's guilty plea, the transcript of plea states that the defendant has not agreed to plead as part of a plea agreement, when the plea is accepted by the trial court, the defendant, under oath, states there is no plea agreement and the judge is again unaware of the plea negotiations.

Opinion #2:

No. See opinion #1.

Inquiry #3:

Assume a similar factual situation where the plea negotiation takes place between a lay administrative assistant of the district attorney and defense counsel. Assume further that the administrative assistant has not discussed the case beforehand with the district attorney or the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, but that the district attorney and his assistants are aware that the lay administrative assistant engages in such practice as a routine matter and that the district attorney has not disapproved of such practice.

Opinion #3:

Even though the district attorney may not directly participate in or become familiar with particular cases in which plea negotiations have been undertaken on his behalf by the administrative assistant, he or she is professionally responsible for the conduct described in the preceding inquiry to the extent that he or she has knowingly ratified the practice by acquiescence. Rule 3.3(c)(1) makes a lawyer professionally responsible for any conduct of a nonlawyer under his or her supervision which would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if the supervising lawyer "orders or, with the knowledge of specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved...." Since the above described practice is described as being "routine" and the district attorney is aware of the conduct, such conduct would be inconsistent with the requirements of Rule 3.3(c)(1).

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