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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Prosecutors May Advise Police to Communicate with Represented Defendant

Effective November 1, 2010, the Supreme Court of Virginia approved the Virginia State Bar’s Rule 4.2 Task Force’s proposed amendment to Comment [5] of Rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to address the situation in which a defendant who is in custody, formally charged, and represented by counsel waives his rights under Miranda v. Arizona and wants to give a statement to a law enforcement officer without his counsel present.

The question addressed by the task force was: “If the law enforcement officer seeks legal advice from a commonwealth’s attorney regarding whether the officer may obtain a statement from the defendant under these circumstances, may the commonwealth’s attorney advise the police officer without violating Rule 4.2?

Rule 4.2 had previously prohibited a lawyer from communicating with a person the lawyer knew to be represented by counsel unless the counsel for the represented person consented or the communication was authorized by law.

Rule 8.4 (a) states that a lawyer cannot violate a professional rule through the agency or actions of another. A reading of the rule led to the conclusion that the commonwealth’s attorney could not ethically advise law enforcement officers to proceed with the custodial interview without notice to or consent from the accused’s lawyer.

The task force determined that the defendant’s waiver of his right to have his lawyer present when the accused desires to talk to a law enforcement officer presents a constitutional legal issue on which the commonwealth’s attorney should be permitted to give advice without fear of violating the cited rules. The amendment to Rule 4.2, Comment [5] clarifies that the commonwealth’s attorney can advise the law enforcement officer regarding the legality of an interrogation or the legality of other investigative conduct. The amendment to Comment [5] does not, however, authorize the commonwealth’s attorney to script or mastermind the police’s interrogation of the defendant.

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