A very common situation in criminal law is where police charged multiple co accused with the same crime. For example, a drug case, where they find multiple people in the same car, they don’t know who had possession of the drug, multiple people in the same house during a search warrant. A client comes to me and they say “Mike, you know, my wife and I were found in this car together, um, can you represent both of us?” Well it really depends, let’s say that there’s four people in the car, both the husband and wife were saying the drugs wasn’t ours, that it was the driver, and they are both saying that. Well, technically would not be a conflict of interest and a lawyer technically could represent both the husband and wife as long as that story doesn’t change. Sometimes the conflict of interest could occur at some point later. For example, the wife says,” no, no the drugs were my husband’s”. So it’s always a bit touchy situation, to take on co-accused. That would be one where you could. Our firm, I am not saying we never take on a co-accused but we’re very careful about it. We have to access each individual situation. We have to make sure there’s no conflict first. The way we do that is that we only represent one initially, get disclosure, review it carefully with them and make sure there’s no conflict and perhaps we might be able to represent the husband in that situation. Now, there’s other touchier situations where there is no conflict, yeah you can represent two but it may not be in the best interest because it’s a very complicated factual situation. Like a , you know very complicated factual situation, say a fight on the golf course, involving multiple parties, so now you are cross examining at trial for two people , it becomes messy in your mind to sort things out. Who you are helping in any one given time, even though both of your clients are saying the other four golfers were the aggressors. So you have to be careful I wouldn’t recommend a criminal lawyer take on many co-accused cases, maybe there are cares that are okay to do it, many not, but I can tell you this, there’s soo many examples of conflict of interests where you can’t and again, that would be an example, the car, where say there’s four co-accused, a man in the car says “the driver had, was in the possession of the drugs”. The man wants to retain me, well I can’t represent the driver because we want to point the fingers at the driver.
So, conflict of interests occurs at the outset of criminal law. They can also develop during the course of the trial, so that becomes a messy situation too. Two people paid a lawyer all this money, and a conflict occurs in the middle of the trial. A trial gets mis-tried and put over and where do you go from there. So you have to be very careful as a criminal lawyer, and you have to understand the law of conflicts very carefully. So that’s the short answer of when not you can develop a , you know, a conflict and whether a lawyer should actually consider taking two co-accused on. The bottom line the lawyer has to be very careful, and do the right thing. It sometimes doesn’t pay to take two co-accused on even though there’s no conflict.