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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

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Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.

District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - Rule 3.3

[1] This rule defines the duty of candor to the tribunal. See Rule 1.0(n) for the definition of "tribunal." The rule 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. In dealing with a tribunal the lawyer is also required to comply with the general requirements of Rule 1.2 (e) and (f). However, an advocate does not vouch for the evidence submitted in a cause; the tribunal is responsible for assessing its probative value.

Representations by a Lawyer

[2] An assertion purported to be made by the lawyer, 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 may be circumstances where failure to make a disclosure is the equivalent of an affirmative misrepresentation. If the lawyer comes to know that a statement of material fact or law that the lawyer previously made to the tribunal is false, the lawyer has a duty to correct the statement, unless correction would require a disclosure of information that is prohibited by Rule 1.6. This provision in paragraph (a)(1) differs from ABA Model Rule 3.3(a)(1), which requires a lawyer to disclose information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6 if necessary to correct the lawyer's false statement. If Rule 1.6 permits a lawyer to disclose a client confidence or secret, D.C. Rule 3.3(a)(1) requires the lawyer to disclose that information to the extent reasonably necessary to correct a false statement of material fact or law. Nothing in D.C. Rule 3.3(a)(1) limits any disclosure duty under Rule 4.1(b) when substantive law requires a lawyer to disclose client information to avoid being deemed to have assisted the client's crime or fraud. The obligation prescribed in Rule 1.2(e) not to counsel a client to commit or assist the client in committing a fraud applies in litigation but is subject to Rule 3.3(b) and (d). Regarding compliance with this duty would require disclosure of Rule 1.2(e), see the Comment to that Rule. See also Rule 8.4.

Misleading Legal Argument

[3] 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 subparagraph (a)(3), an advocate has a duty to disclose directly adverse authority in the controlling jurisdiction that has not been disclosed by the opposing party and that is dispositive of a question at issue. The underlying concept is that legal argument is a discussion seeking to determine the legal premises properly applicable to the case.

Offering Evidence

[4] When evidence that a lawyer knows to be false is provided by a person who is not the client, the lawyer must refuse to offer it 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.

[5] 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. Regardless of the client's wishes, however, a lawyer may not offer evidence of a client if the evidence is known by the lawyer to be false, except to the extent permitted by paragraph (b) where the client is a defendant in a criminal case. The lawyer is obligated not only to refuse to offer false evidence under subparagraph (a)(4) but also to take reasonable remedial measures under paragraph (d) if the false evidence has been offered.

[6] The prohibition against offering false evidence applies only if the lawyer knows that the evidence is false. A lawyer's knowledge that evidence is false can be inferred from the circumstances. See Rule 1.0(f). 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.

[7] Although paragraph (a)(4) prohibits a lawyer from offering evidence only if the lawyer knows it to be false, it also 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.

[8] Paragraph (d) provides that if a lawyer learns that a fraud has been perpetrated on the tribunal, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measures. If the lawyer's client is implicated in the fraud, the lawyer should ordinarily first call upon the client to rectify the fraud. If the client is unwilling to do so, the lawyer should consider other remedial measures. The lawyer may not, however, disclose information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6, unless the client has used the lawyer's services to further a crime or fraud and disclosure is permitted by Rule 1.6(d). In other cases, the lawyer may learn of the client's intention to present false evidence before the client has had a chance to do so. In this situation, paragraphs (a)(4) and (b) forbid the lawyer to present the false evidence, except in rare instances where the witness is the accused in a criminal case, the lawyer is unsuccessful in dissuading the client from going forward, and the lawyer is unable to withdraw without causing serious harm to the client. In addition, Rule 1.6(c) may permit disclosure of client confidences and secrets when the lawyer learns of a prospective fraud on the tribunal involving, for example, bribery or intimidation of witnesses. The terms "criminal case" and "criminal defendant" as used in Rule 3.3 and its Comment include juvenile delinquency proceedings and the person who is the subject of such proceedings.

Perjury by a Criminal Defendant

[9] Paragraph (b) allows the lawyer to permit a client who is the accused in a criminal case to present false testimony in very narrowly circumscribed circumstances and in a very limited manner. Even in a criminal case the lawyer must seek to persuade the defendant-client to refrain from perjurious testimony. There has been dispute concerning the lawyer's duty when that persuasion fails. Paragraph (b) requires the lawyer to withdraw rather than offer the client's false testimony, if this can be done without seriously harming the client.

[10] Serious harm to the client sufficient to prevent the lawyer's withdrawal entails more than the usual inconveniences that necessarily result from withdrawal, such as delay in concluding the client's case or an increase in the costs of concluding the case. The term should be construed narrowly to preclude withdrawal only where the special circumstances of the case are such that the client would be significantly prejudiced, such as by express or implied divulgence of information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6. If the confrontation with the client occurs before trial, the lawyer ordinarily can withdraw. Withdrawal before trial may not be possible, however, either because trial is imminent, or because the confrontation with the client does not take place until the trial itself, or because no other counsel is available. In those rare circumstances in which withdrawal without such serious harm to the client is impossible, the lawyer may go forward with examination of the client and closing argument subject to the limitations of paragraph (b).

Refusing to Offer Proof of a Non-client Known to Be False

[11] Generally speaking, a lawyer may not offer testimony or other proof, through a non-client, that the lawyer knows to be false. Furthermore, a lawyer may not offer evidence of a client if the evidence is known by the lawyer to be false, except to the extent permitted by paragraph (b) where the client is a defendant in a criminal case.

Duration of Obligation

[12] A practical time limit on the obligation to take reasonable remedial measures concerning criminal and fraudulent conducted related to the proceeding is needed. The conclusion of the proceeding is an appropriate and 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. If the lawyer withdraws before the conclusion of the proceeding, the lawyer's obligation ends at the time of withdrawal.


[13] A lawyer's compliance with the duty of candor imposed by this rule might require that the lawyer withdraw from the representation of a client. 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, or with the requirements of Rule 1.6(c), results in the lawyer's inability to represent the client in accordance with these Rules. See also 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 permitted by Rule 1.6.