Your Attorney and You
Your Attorney works for you. It is true that, because he or she is appointed by the court and works for the public defender’s office, you lawyer is paid by the State. However, by law and by the ethics of the legal profession, only you and your lawyer have any input as to how your case is defended.
You and your lawyer have a “confidential relationship,” which means that your lawyer cannot be forced to reveal your secrets or your confidential communications. He or she is also legally and ethically prevented from revealing any of your secrets or confidences, unless it is to help your case.
Your lawyer has an obligation to investigate your case and raise any defenses on your behalf that are available. There is no requirement to raise frivolous defenses or defenses that have no likelihood of succeeding. You and you lawyer may disagree about whether a particular defense should be raised. For the most part, you both have an equal say in the decision, but the two of you should come to an understanding, and you are entitled to an explanation from your attorney as to why he or she disagrees with you.
There are three decisions that you alone get to make, though one hopes you rely on the advice of your lawyer in doing so:
- The first decision is whether or not to “Take a Deal.” If your lawyer thinks you should try the case but you want to accept the offer, your lawyer will accept the offer on your behalf. If you want the case to be tried, it will be tried, even if your lawyer thinks it’s a bad idea. (Experienced lawyers know that cases are occasionally won on the strength of the client’s belief in his or her own innocence, and those cases are tried as vigorously as any other.)
- The next decision that is entirely yours as the client is whether to try the case to a jury or a judge. Again one hopes the you will consider the advice of counsel, but the decision rests with you alone.
- The final decision that is yours alone is whether or not you should testify. Every accused person has an absolute right to testify and not even his lawyer can take that from him. Every accused person has a right not to testify and no one, not even his lawyer can make him testify if he does not want to.