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Text Box: Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer in a Criminal Case
   Posted on October 29, 2012 by John E. Nicoll

In a perfect world, attorneys and their clients would always agree on every decision that needs to be made during the course of representation.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and sometimes the wishes of defendants do not always correspond with the advice of their attorneys.  So what happens when the client and the attorney cannot agree?
In Tennessee, the answer is found in Rule 1.2 of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct.  It provides that “in a criminal case, a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision as to the plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial, and whether the client will testify.”  T.R.P.C. 1.2(a).  As such, other than these three decisions that are solely vested to the defendant to make, all other decisions are entrusted to the attorney’s learned discretion.  These decisions are numerous and important including what evidence to present, what motions to file, what witnesses to call, and what defenses to present.
Although lawyers are vested with authority to make these important decisions, in most cases they should discuss each of these decisions with their clients prior to implementing them.  This is for three main reasons.  First, the lawyer represents the client and the client’s input should be important to the lawyer. Second, because the client normally has firsthand knowledge of facts which the lawyer does not, the client may have a good reason for wanting to pursue a course of action that the lawyer has not considered.  Third, by discussing these types of decisions prior to implementing them, lawyers are simultaneously fulfilling their duty to keep their clients reasonably informed of the actions they are taking on their client’s behalf.  See T.R.P.C. 1.4.  
As in any relationship, good communication is key to the attorney-client relationship. In most situations, good communication can avoid disagreements between attorneys and clients regarding plea decisions and trial strategy.  However, if the attorney and client cannot reach a meeting of the minds, then T.R.P.C. 1.2(a) will determine whether the attorney or client has the ultimate say on a particular issue.

The Nicoll Law Firm, PLLC is located in Manchester, Tennessee and services clients in middle and eastern Tennessee. 


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