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Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal

(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:

(1) make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;

(2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel; or

(3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer, the lawyer's client, or a witness called by the lawyer, has offered material evidence and the lawyer comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal. A lawyer may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.

(b) A lawyer who represents a client in an adjudicative proceeding and who knows that a person intends to engage, is engaging or has engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to the proceeding shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal.

(c) The duties stated in paragraphs (a) and (b) continue to the conclusion of the proceeding, and apply even if compliance requires disclosure of information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6.

(d) In an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the lawyer that will enable the tribunal to make an informed decision, whether or not the facts are adverse.


[1] This Rule governs the conduct of a lawyer who is representing a client in the proceedings of a tribunal. See Rule 1.0(n) for the definition of "tribunal." It also applies when the lawyer is representing a client in an ancillary proceeding conducted pursuant to the tribunal's adjudicative authority, such as a deposition. Thus, for example, paragraph (a)(3) requires a lawyer to take reasonable remedial measures if the lawyer comes to know that a client who is testifying in a deposition has offered evidence that is false.

[2] This Rule sets forth the special duties of lawyers as officers of the court to avoid conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process. A lawyer acting as an advocate in an adjudicative proceeding has an obligation to present the client's case with persuasive force. Performance of that duty while maintaining confidences of the client, however, is qualified by the advocate's duty of candor to the tribunal. Consequently, although a lawyer in an adjudicative proceeding is not required to present an impartial exposition of the law or to vouch for the evidence submitted in a cause, the lawyer must not allow the tribunal to be misled by false statements of material fact or law or evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.

Representations by a Lawyer

[3] An advocate is responsible for pleadings and other documents prepared for litigation, but is usually not required to have personal knowledge of matters asserted therein, for litigation documents ordinarily present assertions by the client, or by someone on the client's behalf, and not assertions by the lawyer. Compare Rule 3.1. However, an assertion purporting to be on the lawyer's own knowledge, as in an affidavit by the lawyer or in a statement in open court, may properly be made only when the lawyer knows the assertion is true or believes it to be true on the basis of a reasonably diligent inquiry. There are circumstances where failure to make a disclosure is the equivalent of an affirmative misrepresentation. The obligation prescribed in Rule 1.2(d) not to counsel a client to commit or assist the client in committing a fraud applies in litigation. Regarding compliance with Rule 1.2(d), see the Comment to that Rule. See also Rule 8.4(b), Comment.

Legal Argument

[4] Legal argument based on a knowingly false representation of law constitutes dishonesty toward the tribunal. A lawyer is not required to make a disinterested exposition of the law, but must recognize the existence of pertinent legal authorities. Furthermore, as stated in paragraph (a)(2), an advocate has a duty to disclose directly adverse authority in the controlling jurisdiction that has not been disclosed by the opposing party. The underlying concept is that legal argument is a discussion seeking to determine the legal premises properly applicable to the case.

Offering Evidence

[5] Paragraph (a)(3) requires that the lawyer refuse to offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false, regardless of the client's wishes. This duty is premised on the lawyer's obligation as an officer of the court to prevent the trier of fact from being misled by false evidence. A lawyer does not violate this Rule if the lawyer offers the evidence for the purpose of establishing its falsity.

[6] If a lawyer knows that the client intends to testify falsely or wants the lawyer to introduce false evidence, the lawyer should seek to persuade the client that the evidence should not be offered. If the persuasion is ineffective and the lawyer continues to represent the client, the lawyer must refuse to offer the false evidence. If only a portion of a witness's testimony will be false, the lawyer may call the witness to testify but may not elicit or otherwise permit the witness to present the testimony that the lawyer knows is false.

[7] The duties stated in paragraphs (a) and (b) apply to all lawyers, including defense counsel in criminal cases. See Comment [9].

[8] The prohibition against offering false evidence only applies if the lawyer knows that the evidence is false. A lawyer's reasonable belief that evidence is false does not preclude its presentation to the trier of fact. A lawyer's knowledge that evidence is false, however, can be inferred from the circumstances.See Rule 1.0(g). Thus, although a lawyer should resolve doubts about the veracity of testimony or other evidence in favor of the client, the lawyer cannot ignore an obvious falsehood.

[9] Although paragraph (a)(3) only prohibits a lawyer from offering evidence the lawyer knows to be false, it permits the lawyer to refuse to offer testimony or other proof that the lawyer reasonably believes is false. Offering such proof may reflect adversely on the lawyer's ability to discriminate in the quality of evidence and thus impair the lawyer's effectiveness as an advocate. Because of the special protections historically provided criminal defendants, however, this Rule does not permit a lawyer to refuse to offer the testimony of such a client where the lawyer reasonably believes but does not know that the testimony will be false. Unless the lawyer knows the testimony will be false, the lawyer must honor the client's decision to testify. See also Comment [7].

Remedial Measures

[10] Having offered material evidence in the belief that it was true, a lawyer may subsequently come to know that the evidence is false. Or, a lawyer may be surprised when the lawyer's client, or another witness called by the lawyer, offers testimony the lawyer knows to be false, either during the lawyer's direct examination or in response to cross-examination by the opposing lawyer. In such situations or if the lawyer knows of the falsity of testimony elicited from the client during a deposition, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measures. The lawyer's action must also be seasonable: depending upon the circumstances, reasonable remedial measures do not have to be undertaken immediately, however, the lawyer must act before a third party relies to his or her detriment upon the false testimony or evidence. The advocate's proper course is to remonstrate with the client confidentially, advise the client of the lawyer's duty of candor to the tribunal and seek the client's cooperation with respect to the withdrawal or correction of the false statements or evidence. If that fails, the advocate should seek to withdraw if that will remedy the situation. If withdrawal from the representation is not permitted or will not undo the effect of the false evidence, the advocate's only option may be to make such disclosure to the tribunal as is reasonably necessary to remedy the situation, even if doing so requires the lawyer to reveal information that otherwise would be protected by Rule 1.6. It is for the tribunal then to determine what should be done - making a statement about the matter to the trier of fact, ordering a mistrial or perhaps nothing.

[11] The disclosure of a client's false testimony can result in grave consequences to the client, including not only a sense of betrayal but also loss of the case and perhaps a prosecution for perjury. But the alternative is that the lawyer cooperate in deceiving the court, thereby subverting the truth-finding process which the adversary system is designed to implement. See Rule 1.2(d). Furthermore, unless it is clearly understood that the lawyer will act upon the duty to disclose the existence of false evidence, the client can simply reject the lawyer's advice to reveal the false evidence and insist that the lawyer keep silent. Thus the client could in effect coerce the lawyer into being a party to fraud on the court.

Preserving Integrity of Adjudicative Process

[12] Lawyers have a special obligation to protect a tribunal against criminal or fraudulent conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process, such as bribing, intimidating or otherwise unlawfully communicating with a witness, juror, court official or other participant in the proceeding, unlawfully destroying or concealing documents or other evidence or failing to disclose information to the tribunal when required by law to do so. Thus, paragraph (b) requires a lawyer to take reasonable remedial measures, including disclosure if necessary, whenever the lawyer knows that a person, including the lawyer's client, intends to engage, is engaging or has engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to the proceeding.

[13] The general rule that an advocate must reveal the existence of perjury with respect to a material fact-even that of a client-applies to defense counsel in criminal cases, as well as in other instances. However, the definition of the lawyer's ethical duty in such a situation may be qualified by constitutional provisions for due process and the right to counsel in criminal cases. These provisions have been construed to require that counsel present an accused as a witness if the accused wishes to testify, even if counsel knows the testimony will be false. The obligation of the advocate under these Rules is subordinate to such a constitutional requirement.

Duration of Obligation

[14] A practical time limit on the obligation to rectify false evidence or false statements of material fact or law has to be established. The conclusion of the proceeding is a reasonably definite point for the termination of the obligation. A proceeding has concluded within the meaning of this Rule when no matters in the proceeding are still pending before the tribunal or the proceeding has concluded pursuant to the rules of the tribunal such as when a final judgment in the proceeding is affirmed on appeal, a bankruptcy case is closed, or the time for review has passed.

Ex Parte Proceedings

[15] Ordinarily, an advocate has the limited responsibility of presenting one side of the matters that a tribunal should consider in reaching a decision; the conflicting position is expected to be presented by the opposing party. However, in any ex parte proceeding, such as an application for a temporary restraining order, there is no balance of presentation by opposing advocates. The object of an ex parte proceeding is nevertheless to yield a substantially just result. The judge has an affirmative responsibility to accord the absent party just consideration. The lawyer for the represented party has the correlative duty to make disclosures of material facts known to the lawyer and that the lawyer reasonably believes are necessary to an informed decision.


[16] Normally, a lawyer's compliance with the duty of candor imposed by this Rule does not require that the lawyer withdraw from the representation of a client whose interests will be or have been adversely affected by the lawyer's disclosure. The lawyer may, however, be required by Rule 1.16(a) to seek permission of the tribunal to withdraw if the lawyer's compliance with this Rule's duty of candor results in such an extreme deterioration of the client-lawyer relationship that the lawyer can no longer competently represent the client. Also see Rule 1.16(b) for the circumstances in which a lawyer will be permitted to seek a tribunal's permission to withdraw. In connection with a request for permission to withdraw that is premised on a client's misconduct, a lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation only to the extent reasonably necessary to comply with this Rule or as otherwise permitted by Rule 1.6.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003

Ethics Opinion Notes

CPR 92. An attorney who knows that criminal clients gave arresting officers fictitious names should call upon the clients to disclose their true identities to the court and, if they refuse, seek to withdraw. ( See also Rule 3.3(a)(3))

CPR 122. An attorney representing the defendant in divorce action, when advised by the client that parties have not been separated a year, must file an answer denying the allegation of separation even though the client does not wish to contest the divorce.

CPR 284. An attorney who, in the course of representing one spouse, obtains confidential information bearing upon the criminal conduct of the other spouse must not disclose such information.

RPC 33. Opinion rules that an attorney who learns through a privileged communication of his client's alias and prior criminal record may not permit his client to testify under a false name or deny his prior record under oath. If the client does so, the attorney would be required to request the client to disclose the true name or record and, if the client refused, to withdraw pursuant to the rules of the tribunal.

RPC 203. Opinion rules that dismissal of an action alone is not sufficient to rectify the perjury of a client in a deposition and the lawyer must demand that the client inform the opposing party of the falsity of the deposition testimony or, if the client refuses, withdraw from the representation.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer representing a client in a social security disability hearing is not required to inform the administrative law judge of material adverse facts known to the lawyer.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that a defense lawyer may remain silent while the prosecutor presents an inaccurate driving record to the court provided the lawyer and client did not criminally or fraudulently misrepresent the driving record to the prosecutor or the court and, further provided, that on application for a limited driving privilege, there is no misrepresentation to the court about the prior driving record.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 20. Opinion rules that, subject to a statute prohibiting the withholding of the information, a lawyer's duty to disclose confidential client information to a bankruptcy court ends when the case is closed although the debtor's duty to report new property continues for 180 days after the date of filing the petition.

99 Formal Ethics Opinion 16. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not participate in the presentation of a consent judgment to a court if the lawyer knows that the consent judgment is based upon false information.

2001 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that, in a petition to a court for an award of an attorney's fee, a lawyer must disclose that the client paid a discounted hourly rate for legal services as a result of the client's membership in a prepaid or group legal services plan.

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that neither a defense lawyer nor a prosecutor may participate in the misrepresentation of a criminal defendant's prior record level in a sentencing proceeding even if the judge is advised of the misrepresentation and does not object.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that lawyer representing an undocumented worker in a workers' compensation action has a duty to correct court documents containing false statements of material fact and is prohibited from introducing evidence in support of the proposition that an alias is the client's legal name.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules a lawyer may assist a pro se litigant by drafting pleadings and giving advice without making an appearance in the proceeding and without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of his assistance to the court unless required to do so by law or court order.

2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer retained by an insurance carrier to represent an insured whose whereabouts are unknown and with whom the lawyer has no contact may not appear as the lawyer for the insured absent authorization by law or court order.

2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a criminal defense lawyer may advise an undocumented alien that deportation may result in avoidance of a criminal conviction and may file a notice of appeal to superior court although there is a possibility that the client will be deported.

2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that a lawyer must notify the court when a clerk of court mistakenly dismisses a client’s charges.

2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules a lawyer may not participate as a network lawyer for a company providing litigation or administrative support services for clients with a particular legal/business problem unless certain conditions are satisfied.

2016 Formal Ethics Opinion 2 . Opinion rules that, when advancing claims on behalf of a criminal defendant who filed a pro se Motion for Appropriate Relief, subsequently appointed defense counsel must correct erroneous claims and statements of law or facts set out in the previous pro se filing.

2018 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer has a duty to disclose to a tribunal adverse legal authority that is controlling as to that tribunal if the legal authority is known to the lawyer and is not disclosed by opposing counsel.

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