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Rules of Professional Conduct

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.3: Candor toward the tribunal

Effective Date: 07/01/2015
Updates: Adopted March 26, 2015, effective July 1, 2015

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(a)

A lawyer shall not knowingly: 

(1) make a false statement of 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, except as provided in Rule 3.3(e). 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 including all appeals, 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. 

(e)

In a criminal case, defense counsel who knows that the defendant, the client, intends to testify falsely may not aid the client in constructing false testimony, and has a duty strongly to discourage the client from testifying falsely, advising that such a course is unlawful, will have substantial adverse consequences, and should not be followed. 

(1) If a lawyer discovers this intention before accepting the representation of the client, the lawyer shall not accept the representation. 

(2) If, in the course of representing a defendant prior to trial, the lawyer discovers this intention and is unable to persuade the client not to testify falsely, the lawyer shall seek to withdraw from the representation, requesting any required permission. Disclosure of privileged or prejudicial information shall be made only to the extent necessary to effect the withdrawal. If disclosure of privileged or prejudicial information is necessary, the lawyer shall make an application to withdraw ex parte to a judge other than the judge who will preside at the trial and shall seek to be heard in camera and have the record of the proceeding, except for an order granting leave to withdraw, impounded. If the lawyer is unable to obtain the required permission to withdraw, the lawyer may not prevent the client from testifying. 

(3) If a criminal trial has commenced and the lawyer discovers that the client intends to testify falsely at trial, the lawyer need not file a motion to withdraw from the case if the lawyer reasonably believes that seeking to withdraw will prejudice the client. If, during the client’s testimony or after the client has testified, the lawyer knows that the client has testified falsely, the lawyer shall call upon the client to rectify the false testimony and, if the client refuses or is unable to do so, the lawyer shall not reveal the false testimony to the tribunal. In no event may the lawyer examine the client in such a manner as to elicit any testimony from the client the lawyer knows to be false, and the lawyer shall not argue the probative value of the false testimony in closing argument or in any other proceedings, including appeals. 

Comment

[1] This Rule governs the conduct of a lawyer who is representing a client in the proceedings of a tribunal. See Rule 1.0(p) 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 adversary 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 law or fact 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 the Comment to Rule 8.4(b)

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, except as provided in Rule 3.3(e). 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] When false evidence is offered by the client, however, a conflict may arise between the lawyer’s duty to keep the client’s revelations confidential and the duty of candor to the court. Upon ascertaining that material evidence is false, the lawyer should seek to persuade the client that the evidence should not be offered or, if it has been offered, that its false character should immediately be disclosed. If the persuasion is ineffective, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measures. 

[7] Reserved. 

[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. For issues raised by perjury by a criminal defendant, see Comments 11A-11E. 

[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, Rule 3.3(e) separately addresses issues that arise in that context. 

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. In such situations, 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, and except as provided for in Rule 3.3(e), the advocate must take further remedial action. Except as provided in Rule 3.3(e), if withdrawal from the representation is not permitted or will not undo the effect of the false evidence, the advocate must 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. 

Perjury by a Criminal Defendant 

[11A] In the defense of a criminally accused, the lawyer’s duty to disclose the client’s intent to commit perjury or offer of perjured testimony is complicated by state and federal constitutional provisions relating to due process, right to counsel, and privileged communications between lawyer and client. Rule 3.3(e) accommodates these special constitutional concerns in a criminal case by providing specific procedures and restrictions to be followed in the rare situations in which the client states his intention to, or does, offer testimony the lawyer knows to be perjured in a criminal trial. 

[11B] Rule 3.3(e) requires that a lawyer know that the client intends to present false testimony before the lawyer proceeds under paragraph (e). This standard requires that the lawyer, before invoking the Rule, act in good faith and have a firm basis in objective fact. Conjecture or speculation that the defendant intends to testify falsely is not enough. Inconsistencies in the evidence or in the defendant’s version of events are also not enough to trigger the Rule, even though the inconsistencies, considered in light of the Commonwealth’s proof, raise concerns in the lawyer’s mind that the defendant is equivocating and not an honest person. Similarly, the existence of strong physical and forensic evidence implicating the defendant would not be sufficient. Lawyers may rely on facts made known to them, and are under no duty to conduct an independent investigation. 

[11C] In cases to which Rule 3.3(e) applies, it is the clear duty of the lawyer first to seek to persuade the client to refrain from testifying perjuriously. That persuasion should include, at a minimum, advising the client that such a course of action is unlawful, may have substantial adverse consequences, and should not be followed. If that persuasion fails, and the lawyer has not yet accepted the case, the lawyer must not agree to the representation. If the lawyer learns of this intention after the lawyer has accepted the representation of the client, but before trial, and is unable to dissuade the client of his or her intention to commit perjury, the lawyer must seek to withdraw from the representation. The lawyer must request the required permission to withdraw from the case by making an application ex parte before a judge other than the judge who will preside at the trial. The lawyer must request that the hearing on this motion to withdraw be heard in camera, and that the record of the proceedings, except for an order granting a motion to withdraw, be impounded. 

[11D] Once the trial has begun, the lawyer may seek to withdraw from the representation but is not required to do so if the lawyer reasonably believes that withdrawal would prejudice the client. If the lawyer learns of the client’s intention to commit perjury during the trial, and is unable to dissuade the client from testifying falsely, the lawyer may not stand in the way of the client’s absolute right to take the stand and testify. If, during a trial, the lawyer knows that his or her client, while testifying, has made a perjured statement, and the lawyer reasonably believes that any immediate action taken by the lawyer will prejudice the client, the lawyer should wait until the first appropriate moment in the trial and then attempt to persuade the client confidentially to correct the perjury. 

[11E] In any of these circumstances, if the lawyer is unable to convince the client to correct the perjury, the lawyer must not assist the client in presenting the perjured testimony and must not argue the false testimony to a judge, or jury or appellate court as true or worthy of belief. Except as provided in this Rule, the lawyer may not reveal to the court that the client intends to perjure or has perjured himself or herself in a criminal trial. 

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. 

Duration of Obligation 

[13] A practical time limit on the obligation to rectify false evidence or false statements of law and fact 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 a final judgment in the proceeding has been affirmed on appeal or the time for review has passed. 

Ex Parte Proceedings 

[14] 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. Rule 3.3(d) does not change the rules applicable in situations covered by specific substantive law, such as presentation of evidence to grand juries, applications for search or other investigative warrants and the like. 

[14A] When adversaries present a joint petition to a tribunal, such as a joint petition to approve the settlement of a class action suit or the settlement of a suit involving a minor, the proceeding loses its adversarial character and in some respects takes on the form of an ex parte proceeding. The lawyers presenting such a joint petition thus have the same duties of candor to the tribunal as lawyers in ex parte proceedings and should be guided by Rule 3.3(d). 

Withdrawal 

[15] 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 confidential information relating to the representation only to the extent reasonably necessary to comply with this Rule or as otherwise permitted by Rule 1.6.

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Updates: Adopted March 26, 2015, effective July 1, 2015
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