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Is it ethical for a public defender to refuse to represent a person believed to be guilty?

Milwaukee, WI |
Attorney answers 4


Guilt or innocence is not a question for the defense attorney. An attorney has an obligation not to defraud the court. This means if someone tells me they're guilty I can't help them get on the witness stand and say they're not guilty. Other than that my job is to offer advice and not to do the jury's job.

My answers are only intended as general legal advice based on my eighteen years as an Austin criminal defense and DUI attorney. They are not intended to be a binding legal opinion nor to create an attorney - client relationship. For those questions asked outside of Texas, there is no intent on my part to practice law in any other state There is no substitute for contacting a local attorney. Feel free to visit my website, .


Every person charged with a crime is entitled to a defense and a competent defense often does not turn on issues of guilt. Criminal defense attorneys, including public defenders, almost uniformly believe strongly in this principle. After all, they are devoting their professional lives to upholding and acting on that belief. That said, there are occasionally instances where a particular case affects a specific defense attorney so strongly, usually for personal reasons, that the attorney must necessarily be concerned about whether he/she is capable of being the objective and skilled counsel to which the defendant is entitled. For example, I know a defense attorney who feels so strongly about the issue of cruelty to animals that he has genuine doubt that he can be effective for someone charged with that crime even if he were to make the best effort that he is capable of. He just cannot be certain of the objectivity of his judgment in that circumstance. Where a defense attorney has some particular reason for doubting their personal capabilities in a specific case, it is not unethical to decline to be the counsel for that client. However, even in that situation, it is still essential to act in the client's best interests until the matter can be accepted by another attorney.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.


More information would be needed to give you a specific answer. An attorney may not put a client on the stand to testify to his innocence if the attorney knows the client is guilty. Otherwise, generally, whether a person is guilty or innocent should have no bearing on the attorney's representation.

Good luck.


All of the above answers are accurate.

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