Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 33 (Revised). See Rule 3.3 of the Revised Rules for additional considerations.
Disclosure of Client's Alias and Criminal Record
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.
Attorney A represents Defendant D in a criminal proceeding. In a confidential communication with D, Attorney A discovers that D has been charged under an alias. If D's real identity were known, it would reveal a prior criminal record which could have an impact on sentencing and possibly result in other charges. In this particular case, it would be in the best interest of D to testify in his own behalf.
Does Attorney A have an affirmative duty to disclose the alias? May he have D sworn under the alias? When the district attorney asks the defendant if he has a prior criminal record, must Attorney A withdraw if D denies any record? If asked by the judge to disclose D's prior record, which cannot be accomplished without revealing the alias, must Attorney A withdraw?
Prior to any trial court proceedings, Attorney A has no affirmative duty to disclose the Defendant's true name or his criminal record. Indeed, at that point in his representation, Attorney A's duty to his client prohibits his disclosing this confidential information. Rule 4.
In the trial court, however, Attorney A also has a duty to the tribunal. He may not participate in the presentation of perjured testimony, Rule 7.2(a) (4), (5), (6) and (8), nor in the perpetration of a fraud upon the tribunal. Rule 7.2(b) (1). Obviously, trial court events may give rise to a conflict between this duty to deal honestly with the court, and the duty to deal confidentially with the client. Counsel may not sit idly by while a defendant testifies falsely. Rule 7.2(b) (1). And in response to a specific and direct question to counsel by the court, counsel may not misrepresent the defendant's criminal record but is under no ethical obligation to respond.
Prior to trial, Attorney A must anticipate these possible trial events. He must request the Defendant to agree that he will testify truthfully about all matters, including his name and criminal record, if he testifies at all. If the Defendant refuses this request, Attorney A must terminate his representation. If he has formally entered the case, he must undertake to withdraw, prior to trial, in accord with the rules of the tribunal. See Rule 7.2 and comment.
If the Defendant agrees to these requests but, during the trial, testifies falsely with respect to a material matter, including his name and criminal record, Attorney A must call upon the Defendant to correct the false testimony. If the Defendant refuses, Attorney A must undertake to withdraw from the case in accord with the rules of the tribunal. See Rule 7.2(b) (1) and comment.
THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR
217 E. Edenton Street • PO Box 25908 • Raleigh, NC 27611-5908 • 919.828.4620
Copyrightę North Carolina State Bar. All rights reserved.